European Commissioner strongly condemns alleged malpractices at fisheries department

European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Karmenu Vella issued a statement saying the Commission was ready to provide assistance to Operation Tarantelo

European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Karmenu Vella
European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Karmenu Vella

The European Commission has been in contact with Malta’s fisheries department as well as investigators to follow up on the ongoing investigation into an alleged tuna racket.

Yesterday, Spanish publication El Confidencial published transcripts of phone conversations between the now-suspended fisheries department director Andreina Fenech Farrugia and the king of Spanish blue fin tuna operators, José Fuentes García.

In the transcripts, Fenech Farrugia appears to ask García for payment.

In a statement on Wednesday, European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Karmenu Vella strongly condemned the "infringements and malpractices as reported by the Spanish Guardia Civil under 'Operation Tarantelo.'"

"We strongly condemn the infringements and malpractices... they are in breach of EU and international rules and as such cannot be tolerated," Vella said, adding that the Commission stood ready to provide any further assistance to the relevant authorities.

 “The European Commission has been in contact with all the relevant national authorities and other relevant actors in this operation (i.e. Europol) to follow up on the ongoing Tarantelo investigation, which is now at the level of the "Audiciencia Nacional" in Spain,” it said.  

READ MORE: Malta fisheries 'boss' used Spanish mobile number for confidential calls

The Commission said it reports like this very seriously and that it was now in the process of discussing corrective measures with the Maltese priority, as a matter of priority.

In one conversation intercepted by the Spanish investigative authorities on 20 June last year, Fenech Farrugia told Fuentes: "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."

The Commission spokesperson said that the Director General was indeed present in Bulgaria for an informal meeting of the directors from all member states organised by the Bulgarian Presidency to discuss control regulation but that DG Mare Director General had no bilateral meeting with Fenech Farrugia.

When asked why this situation had gone unnoticed for so long, the same spokesperson said that "the fishery for Bluefin tuna from the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean is often considered as the most controlled fishery in the world. Nevertheless, this fishery has also some specificities which make it challenging to control, in particular in relation to live fish being kept in farming installations."

READ MORE: NGO calls for an investigation into fisheries department after bribery allegations

For this reason, the investigation has revealed the loopholes in the system and the need to tighten control rules for Bluefin tuna farming.

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