Spanish sources were quoted in the Times of Malta last week describing what we know of the “tuna laundering” scandal as the tip of the iceberg. The newspaper reported that Andreina Fenech Farrugia, the Director General of Fisheries who is now suspended, had also been in the sights of the authorities because of possible involvement in illegal fuel trade.
Our administrators are under constant scrutiny when it comes to all that happens on land. They are under pressure to provide education in schools and surgery in hospitals. If we had any trains, we would be measuring their performance also by whether the trains run on time.
But Malta claims to be much greater than the sum of its land parts. One legacy of British imperialism we have chosen not to renounce is our tenuous claim on a stretch of water the size of Britain, stretching from east (Greece) to west (Tunisia) and from north (Sicily) to south (Libya). This makes our administrators also responsible for what happens at sea, but no one seems to be watching beyond the horizon.
The simple fact is that it is tacitly accepted that the basic precepts of law are optional within our waters. In a country where law barely rules on land, it seems it is not even a consideration at sea.
The tip of the iceberg is dramatic enough. Exceeding quotas of culled bluefin tuna is not some victimless, administrative crime. These are not some arbitrary limits designed to give an unfair advantage to competitors. There is no moral mitigation for breaking these rules.
Bluefin tuna will be driven to extinction in the east Atlantic and the Mediterranean if we continue to exceed the yearly limit of 23,000 tonnes. The Spanish clients of Dr Fenech Farrugia alone owned cages off Malta’s shores that could farm 9,000 tonnes a year. Evidence obtained through wire taps show they scheduled meetings in Malta with “a Maltese minister” to get him (or her) to sign off on a 25 per cent increase to their 3,000 tonne allowance. In reality, their strategy was to go way beyond even that greedy limit.
For this short-sighted, irrevocable, rapacious crime they were looking to pocket an extra €25 million a year. Their Maltese auditors had already figured out they were up to something funny and wrote as much in their findings.
But the suspension of the Director General on full pay does not bring this story to a neat resolution. That is just what the ‘tip of the iceberg’ means. If the Maltese auditors had already flagged something inexplicably odd in the accounts of the Maltese subsidiary of Fuentes and Sons, why was this warning not acted upon? After all, what is the point of obliging companies to file audit reports if nothing is then done about them?
More importantly though, it turns out that Dr Fenech Farrugia was promoted to the director-generalship on the express instructions emanating from the office of none other than the Prime Minister, and against advice from the civil service.
They ignored the fact that she had already been transferred out of Fisheries after the European Commission warned that she was well on the way to destroying Malta’s fishing industry.
And is anyone assuming responsibility for this? Not at all.
Nothing in the history of Malta this side of Queen Victoria comes close to the unmitigated ethical bankruptcy at the helm of this country
We have now been told that the news did not come as a surprise to the government, and that a magisterial inquiry and a police investigation into the activities of Dr Fenech Farrugia were already under way.
Then why was she left in her post, increasing the risk of evidence being manipulated or destroyed?
Why wasn’t she removed, arrested or charged, and her office raided and her records taken away for safekeeping?
It is impossible not to suspect that the iceberg is being kept afloat by a criminal conspiracy involving the politicians protecting Dr Fenech Farrugia.
It is impossible not to look at the Office of the Prime Minister, led by that smirking Moriarty, Keith Schembri, for an explanation as to why she was appointed to an office she eventually used to flout international law.
It is impossible not to wonder how much EU Fisheries Commissioner Karmenu Vella (of Tunny Net fame – too ironic a link not to mention), already suspected about how his home country was policing European commitments on tuna quotas.
It would be irresponsible not to ask how diligent our law enforcers have been, in ensuring that any other tuna farms gracing our waters have not followed suit.
How deep is this iceberg? How many more revelations from European journalists will the world need to confirm its suspicion that the whole of Malta – from its coves and its shores to its wide-open seas – is proving to be the perfect setting for Pirates of the Mediterranean?
The Ndrangheta, the world’s largest cocaine trafficker, uses Malta’s land-bound services to launder its profits. Is it using our waters to carry its goods?
We know our harbours have been used for illegal transshipment of fuel smuggled by Libyan warlords out of their country and transferred here to be siphoned by the mafia into the energy system on the continent. An investigation by Italian journalists found this was happening under our regulators’ noses: the same regulators that are scrupulously efficient when policing NGO boats rescuing migrants but curiously myopic with respect to smugglers.
An “internal” Foreign Office inquiry ruled out Italian press reports that foreign office staff had forged documents to aid fuel trafficking. They can deny it, but is anyone believing them? Not when Neville Gafà, escorted by the Prime Minister’s personal security staff in an official car, tours Libya and meets renowned fuel-smuggling warlords while on official duty.
It is wrong to think that the Labour Party introduced corruption to a faultless country in 2013. That kind of thinking gives the false hope that there can be a time – once Joseph Muscat retires or is made to retire – when corruption will vanish of its own accord.
But it is equally wrong to try to fit what is happening around us in this country right now in some spectrum that has any precedent. You may have legitimate doubts about Dom Mintoff. You may fairly criticise Eddie Fenech Adami for ignoring for far too long suspicions in rotten people like John Dalli. But nothing in the history of Malta this side of Queen Victoria comes close to the unmitigated ethical bankruptcy at the helm of this country. Everything else you hear – including barbaric culling of tuna stocks for naked profit – is just a symptom of this deliberate capture of our State.
Malta itself has become an iceberg. Underneath its cold, sharp-edged surface lurks a faceless edifice ever concealed from the light of day. If at first admired, its danger is soon understood. Everyone gives icebergs a wide berth. They float on the currents, without order and without a goal.
Until every iceberg fulfils its inescapable destiny: it melts and vanishes into oblivion.
And when these tyrants have left to count their profits, our children will not have a country to inhabit.
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