A senior official at the Fisheries Department was yesterday charged with bribery and money laundering.

Senior principal fisheries (protection) officer Francis Caruana, 55, of Marsaxlokk, is pleading not guilty to money laundering, embezzlement, bribery and defrauding the Fisheries Department over the past few years.

Police Inspector Jonathan Ferris told Magistrate Natasha Galea Sciberras that when a new director was appointed, internal audits were carried out and these flagged discrepancies in the fees paid on imported fish.

For a number of years, no fees were being paid to the department, he said.

Between €37 and €39 was usually charged on the release of the fish. When such a transaction took place during office hours the money went to the government but outside normal hours, the officer signing the release form got a commission.

The prosecution alleges that, in Mr Caruana’s case, the amount charged varied and depended on to whom the fish were released. It alleges Mr Caruana had failed to declare in his tax returns the money he had made from the nominal fee he received.

The court upheld a prosecution request to freeze Mr Caruana’s assets. Defence lawyers Arthur Azzopardi, Marion Camilleri and Franco Debono asked the court to release the standard €13,000 a year allowed by law so the accused would have enough money to sustain his living.

The prosecution did not object to bail but asked for strict conditions.

Magistrate Galea Sciberras granted Mr Caruana bail against a deposit of €700 and €10,000 personal guarantee.

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