The Malta Independent 19 March 2019, Tuesday

Karmenu Vella ‘never met’ Spanish tuna kingpin at heart of fisheries scandal

Kevin Schembri Orland Wednesday, 20 February 2019, 09:23 Last update: about 26 days ago

EU Fisheries Commissioner Karmenu Vella has never met Spanish tuna kingpin Jose Fuentes Garcia or any representatives of his companies, a European Commission spokesperson told The Malta Independent yesterday.

The fisheries sector was in the news recently after the Maltese fisheries director, Andreina Fenech Farrugia, was suspended over claims that she asked Spanish tuna kingpin Jose Fuentes for payment. In a statement, Fenech Farrugia "categorically" denied any wrongdoing and said she was strongly rebutting the allegations in her regard.  

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In the transcripts published by Spanish news outlet El Confidencial, one finds a line where Fenech Farrugia tells Fuentes: “I am in Bulgaria just for you. You have to pay me, because I have a meeting with the [director] general of Brussels”. According to the documents, the conversation took place on 20 June 2018. At the time, EU fisheries heads were meeting under the auspices of Bulgaria’s EU Council presidency.

Following the articles, the Commission had issued a statement, saying that the Director General of DG MARE was in Bulgaria for an informal meeting of the Directors General from all Member States organised by the Bulgarian Presidency to discuss the Commission’s proposal for a control regulation. He participated in that meeting and had no bilateral meeting with Fenech Farrugia, the Commission had said. 

This newsroom then sent a number of questions to the EU Commission, asking how it came to the conclusion that the  director general held no bilateral meetings with Fenech Farrugia and whether they relied solely on the word of the DG; Whether a formal investigation is taking place into the office of the European Commission for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries and the Director General; what kind of communication Commissioner Vella had with Fenech Farrugia and whether they have met since his appointment as Commissioner; Whether Commissioner Vella ever held discussions with Jose Fuentes Garcia or any of his companies; whether he held meetings with the Director General of EU Fisheries on Jose Fuentes Garcia or his companies; and whether the Commission can rule out any possible involvement from anyone within your Commission in this potentially criminal situation.

The European Commission spokesperson responded: “It is the primary responsibility of the member states as flag and coastal states to enforce the EU and the international fisheries law provisions. It is on the other hand the Commission’s responsibility to control and evaluate the application of the rules of the common fisheries policy by the member states and take action in accordance with the powers conferred to it by the Treaty.”

“Consequently, the Commission has and will continue to follow-up on this case with the member states to ensure that their authorities, fishing vessels and operators abide by the rules set by the relevant Union legislation and international treaties. The ongoing investigation against Fenech Farrugia is, however, carried out by the Maltese competent authorities and the Commission is not involved in it.”

“As has previously been confirmed, Director-General Aguiar Machado did participate in the meeting with national directors-general for fisheries organised by the Bulgarian Presidency of the EU on 20 June 2018. The Director-General did not have any bilateral meetings during his stay in Bulgaria, hence neither with Ms Farrugia.

“In the routine performance of his institutional duties as Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Commissioner Vella has attended events/meetings at which Fenech Farruiga was also present. These meetings were solely in relation to her role as Director-General of Fisheries for Malta, and commensurate with events/ meetings with Fisheries Directors from other EU Member States,” the spokesperson said.

Commissioner Vella has never met Jose Fuentes Garcia or any representatives of his companies, the spokesperson added.

Previously, the Commission had said that they are in the process of discussing corrective measures with the Maltese authorities as a matter of priority. They also said that they had carefully taken note of the events reported by the Guardia Civil. “We are also analysing the information collected by the Commission's inspectors to decide on possible amendments to the current legal framework and/or update the existing monitoring, control and surveillance practices.”

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