Article updated on February 15 at 15:20
Following accusations made by the Spanish press against her, Dr Andreina Fenech Farrugia has strongly denied the claim that she had solicited a bribe from a Spanish bluefin tuna operator.
She insisted that she always acted in a professional manner and that she has been “singled out” in an extensive investigation that includes many operators.
Fenech Farrugia was the General Director of Fisheries and Aquaculture of Malta, but following the El Confidencial report she was removed from her post last Tuesday, a few hours after the publication of the Spanish newspaper’s exclusive report.
She said that the allegations made against here were based on transcriptions of phonecalls that she could not confirm were made
She said that the transcripts were not word-for-word and so they would have been taken out of context, while some parts may have been misinterpreted. She also lay blame on the level of Spanish that was used during the translation, which was in her opinion of very poor quality and led to even further misinterpretation.
She denied having ever asked for or received money for personal use. “Official payments, in terms of the law, were made to me as director, and it is therefore obvious that if an operator was to have an increase in his quota, he would have had to made a payment to me as director, according to his quota increase in terms of the law,” she said.
She also added that it was part of her duties to speak with all operators in the aquaculture sector and it was accessible to everyone, despite reports indicating that she had only communicated with one operator.
Andreina Fenech Farrugia told José Fuentes García by telephone on June 20: “I’m in Bulgaria just for you, you have to pay me, because there is a meeting and I’m with the [director] general of Brussels.”
Despite her assertions on her claims to innocence, the El Confidencial report quotes a suspicious phone conversation between Dr Fenech Farrugia and José Fuentes García, the vice president of the Ricardo Fuentes e Hijos Group. The report also states that:
“In other dialogues between them it is evident that the Maltese high official would have collaborated for years so that the Fuentes Group has introduced more bluefin tuna than those declared and authorized in the farms of the Mediterranean archipelago.”
The conversation was held on 20th June 2018, when EU fisheries heads had convened in Bulgaria. It was intercepted by Spanish investigative authorities, as part of a vast investigation into how the Maltese authorities allegedly helped Fuentes Garcia regularise vast amounts of illegally caught tuna.
“I always acted in a professional, ethical and fair manner in terms of the law, and I was always impartial and fair with all operators and individuals involved in the sector”
The suspended director also insisted that there were times when she had ordered action to be taked against this operator (Grupo Ricardo Fuentes E Hijos). She therefore hoped that this was not a move aimed at stopping her from working in the best interests of the sector and observance of the law.
Dr Fenech Farrugia further stated that she had been appointed Director General of fisheries in 2013 following a public call, and based on the merits of her experience and qualifications. She said she would continue to cooperate with the authorities.
Update: The Maltese police assert that they cooperated fully with Spain over tuna scandal
In a statement on Friday, the police said its Economic Crimes Squad cooperated fully with the Spanish authorities and handed over all required information, via the Europol channels. It also clarified that the Economic Crimes Squad started to carry out investigations in October as soon as the Malta police became aware of these allegations.