Malta fisheries 'boss' used Spanish mobile number supplied by tuna impresario for confidential calls

Phone taps of Spanish tuna king Jose Fuentes reveal how the now-suspended fisheries director Andreina Fenech Farrugia was referred to as 'the boss'

Andreina Fenech Farrugia's Spanish phone number given to her by the company Ricardo Fuentes was tapped by investigators
Andreina Fenech Farrugia's Spanish phone number given to her by the company Ricardo Fuentes was tapped by investigators

Known in fishing circles as “the boss”, Andreina Fenech Farrugia used her role as director of fisheries in Malta to try and regularise illegal tuna catches, according to Spanish investigators.

Her name cropped up in Operation Tarantella, an investigation by the Spanish environmental police which led to several arrests last year.

Back then Malta had featured in the findings but no public reference was made on the involvement of Maltese high officials.

However, transcripts of phone taps leaked to the Spanish press on Tuesday revealed the extent of Fenech Farrugia’s alleged involvement in trying to appease the requests for a higher fish quota by Spanish tuna impresario Jose Fuentes.

In one of the more damning conversations seen by MaltaToday, Fenech Farrugia is recorded asking Fuentes for payment.

Fuentes has subsidiary companies in Malta, trading under the name, Mare Blu that operate offshore tuna farms.

Fenech Farrugia ostensibly used her role as director of fisheries to regularise tuna catches that surpassed strict international quotas. At one point, she was asked by Fuentes to increase his company’s fishing quota from 3,000 tonnes to 4,000 tonnes.

Secure mobile phone

MaltaToday can reveal that it was only when Spanish investigators came across a second mobile phone used by Fuentes that the Malta link to Fenech Farrugia surfaced.

This second mobile phone was described by investigators as Fuentes’s “secure phone”.

Transcripts of phone taps show how Fuentes used his secure line to make “confidential” calls to Fenech Farrugia.

An excerpt from the phone intercepts recorded by Spanish investigators
An excerpt from the phone intercepts recorded by Spanish investigators

However, what raised suspicion was the fact that Fenech Farrugia used a Spanish mobile phone number registered by Fuentes’s company, Ricardo Fuentes e Hijos.

Spanish investigators believe this was an intentional arrangement to maintain “absolute confidentiality” during conversations between the two.

It appears that the only calls made to Fenech Farrugia’s Spanish number were from Fuentes’s secure phone.

Soliciting payment

In a three-minute conversation recorded on 20 June last year Fenech Farrugia allegedly asked Fuentes for “payment” while on an official EU fisheries meeting in Sofia, Bulgaria.

"I'm in Bulgaria just for you, you have to pay me, because there's a meeting and I'm with the [director] general of Brussels,” Fenech Farrugia told Fuentes, who had just complained to her over the phone that it was more difficult to meet her than the minister.

Andreina Fenech Farrugia allegedly asked Fuentes for payment
Andreina Fenech Farrugia allegedly asked Fuentes for payment

But the phone taps also lift the lid on the level of familiarity between Fuentes and Fenech Farrugia.

In one of the conversations recorded on 15 June 2018, Fuentes casually addressed Fenech Farrugia as “gorgeous”. She allegedly played up the remark, insisting that “all the world wanted her”.

During the same conversation, Fuentes suggested that Fenech Farrugia needed to have “a good massage” when she told him that her back was hurting.

According to the Spanish investigators, these conversations were indicative of a long-standing acquaintance between the two.

Pay attention to Fish & Fish

But a more telling part was Fenech Farrugia’s cautionary remark in the same conversation from 15 June, asking Fuentes to “pay attention” on how to report things “so that Fish & Fish do not say anything”.

Fish & Fish is a rival Maltese tuna operation.

It is unclear from the transcripts seen by MaltaToday why Fenech Farrugia felt the need to mention Fish & Fish.

Fuentes operates one of five tuna farming operations in Malta
Fuentes operates one of five tuna farming operations in Malta

But she also told Fuentes not to speak to anyone, including a certain Giovanni. The transcripts do not say who Giovanni is but Fenech Farrugia allegedly implied that she did not trust him much.

The two also talked of applying pressure on politicians.

In another conversation on 24 June last year, Fuentes informed the Maltese DG that he was going to visit Malta to meet the minister, ostensibly Jose Herrera.

Fenech Farrugia allegedly informed Fuentes that she had started “moving things” and asked the Spaniard whether he would be spending one day with the minister.

The conversation then took a more personal twist with Fenech Farrugia telling Fuentes that her partner was “all day at football”.

Cannot be seen together

A day later, Fuentes called Fenech Farrugia to inform her that he would be arriving in Malta at 10.30pm and would be staying until Thursday at the Hilton.

Fuentes asked her whether she would like to dine with him but Fenech Farrugia insisted that she “cannot be seen” with him in Malta.

She then suggested meeting him at the hotel at 11pm or 6am on the next morning.

Spanish investigators estimate that the black-market trade in tuna could be worth millions of euros and the transcripts cast Malta as a key player in this dirty business.

Environment Minister Jose Herrera suspended the fisheries director 'indefinitely' after the transcripts were leaked
Environment Minister Jose Herrera suspended the fisheries director 'indefinitely' after the transcripts were leaked

The Environment Ministry yesterday said that a police investigation and magisterial inquiry into allegations of wrongdoing by the Spanish company’s Malta operation had been underway for quite a while.

The police have now asked Europol for the information linked to Fenech Farrugia that has emerged in Spain.

A source close to government told MaltaToday that although Maltese investigators were probing the matter, Fenech Farrugia’s name only cropped up in Spain as a result of the mobile phone taps of the Spanish numbers.

Fenech Farrugia was yesterday suspended “indefinitely” by Environment Minister Jose Herrera after Spanish media revealed the Malta link.

She has denied any wrongdoing, insisting that she had “always observed and employed the highest standards of diligence and professionalism” in her work. Fenech Farrugia said she always took the necessary legal steps “against all operators, at all times, when any illegalities were detected”.

READ ALSO: From massive profits to massive losses: Fuentes’s operations in Malta

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