The director-general of the Fisheries Department who was suspended after reports of a cosy relationship with a Spanish tuna kingpin accused of running a massive illegal fishing racket, insisted on Thursday she never acted incorrectly, and payments were only made to her in her official capacity of director.

Andreina Fenech Farrugia was suspended on Tuesday after a media report in Spain revealed extracts of phone calls between her and the Spanish tuna rancher. 

“I always acted in a professional, ethical and fair manner in terms of the law, and I was always impartial and fair with all operators and individuals involved in the sector,” she said in a lengthy statement.

She said the allegations being made against her were based on summaries of alleged telephone conversations she could not confirm as having been made. Even worse, these were not word-for-word transcripts of the alleged calls, but summaries which may have been misinterpreted or taken out of context.

Poor use was made of the Spanish language, a factor which may have further contributed to such misinterpretation.

'Normal to communicate with all operators every day'

Dr Fenech Farrugia said she was appointed director general in 2013 after a public call for which she had qualified first. The same process was repeated in 2016.  She previously held the position in 2011 and also held other senior positions since 1996 including scientific officer and principal scientific officer in the Fisheries Department.

As part of her duties it was normal for her to communicate every day, sometimes several times per day, with all operators in the sector. She had been equally available to anyone, contrary to the impression given in some reports that she communicated only with one operator.

Strongly denied having ever solicited or received money for her personal use

The director strongly denied having ever solicited or received money for her personal use.

It was obvious, she said, that those who were to benefit from a legitimate increase in their tuna quota would have been required to made payments to the department, of which she was the lawful representative.

“Official payments, in terms of the law, were made to me as director, and it is therefore obvious that if an operator was to have an increase in his quota, he would have had to made a payment to me as director, according to his quota increase in terms of the law,” she said.

The director said it was strange how she had been singled out in an extensive investigation that included many operators, individuals, companies and entities. She hoped this was not a move aimed at stopping her from working in the best interests of the sector and the observance of the law.

She insisted that over the years, she had, several times, ordered action to be taken against the operator mentioned in the reports, in the same way as she ordered action to be taken against others as required.

She insisted that any requests for increases in fisheries quotas were handled transparently by the competent authorities and against payment of hundreds of thousands of euros to her as director as established by law.

Dr Fenech Farrugia said she was continuing to cooperate with the authorities and would have no problem in continuing to do so.

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