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Mallia: no conflict of interest over law firm

This picture of a protected marsh harrier was released by Birdlife, which said the bird, that was found with gunshot wounds yesterday, had to be put down.This picture of a protected marsh harrier was released by Birdlife, which said the bird, that was found with gunshot wounds yesterday, had to be put down.

Home Affairs Minister Manuel Mallia is insisting there is no problem with the law firm that bears his name representing the hunters’ lobby, saying he has severed all ties with the company.

“Minister Manuel Mallia has no conflict of interest as he is no longer a member of the mentioned law firm,” a ministry spokeswoman said, reacting to charges of conflict of interest by Birdlife yesterday.

Birdlife executive director Steve Micklewright said he was concerned that the firm, Emmanuel Mallia and Associates, had been involved in a data protection inquiry involving the hunters’ federation, FKNK, and BBC journalist Chris Packham.

Mr Packham was questioned by the police for four hours last week after FKNK complained he had breached its members’ data protection rights by filming them in the Miżieb hunting area.

Addressing a press conference to mark the end of the spring hunting season, Mr Micklewright called for a government inquiry to be held to investigate any possible conflict of interest.

“It clearly should be a matter of public concern that legal procedures initiated by the FKNK and involving the police and other entities are coming from the law firm of the minister responsible for the police,” he said.

My first reaction: why didn’t he call his commanding officer?

The ministry spokeswoman told Times of Malta the minister no longer received a retainer from the law firm and insisted the ministry did not interfere with any police investigations.

Home Affairs Minister Manuel Mallia.Home Affairs Minister Manuel Mallia.

Mr Micklewright also raised concerns over police conduct during the incident. He claimed an officer on site called the FKNK for instructions as hunters surrounded Mr Packham and his crew.

Nimrod Mifsud, a Birdlife volunteer who witnessed the incident, told Times of Malta he had heard the officer tell hunters he would call the “kumitat tal-għaqda” (group committee) for advice on how to proceed. “I heard him speaking and asking for instructions. My first reaction was: why didn’t he call his commanding officer,” Mr Mifsud said.

When contacted, FKNK secretary Lino Farrugia vehemently denied the allegations, insisting the officer had called his superiors. He said the policeman had been paid by the federation to help supervise the area during the hunting season. Miżieb is public land that was designated a hunting area in 1986. Mr Farrugia said that although the area was open to the public it was managed by the FKNK and was restricted to licensed hunters during hunting hours.

“Mr Packham was trespassing at the time and was provoking our members by shoving a camera in their faces. He also violated their rights by filming them in a restricted area,” he said.

Questions sent to the police on the matter were not answered at the time of writing.

‘Give them frozen quail’

Buying each hunter four frozen quails instead of allowing them to hunt would save the taxpayer €125,000 in enforcement costs, Birdlife executive director Steve Micklewright said.

Policing hunters this season had cost the Maltese coffers €173,481, he said, and this worked out at more than €10 per bird that could legally be shot.

“These must be the most expensive turtledoves in the world,” he said. Mr Micklewright added it would be more economically feasible to buy each of the 10,000 registered spring hunters a packet of frozen quails than continue policing the “uncontrollable” illegalities.

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