Recall from China was a ‘coincidence’, new ambassador insists

The newly appointed non-resident Ambassador to Qatar, Joseph Pirotta, is insisting that his recall from Malta’s embassy in China in 2005 was “coincidental” and not as a direct result of a visa scandal investigated by the police.

The Shift last week revealed that Pirotta has been given a new diplomatic post despite his track record. Pirotta was recalled from China during a visas scandal and, during a later posting in Libya, had to be evacuated out of Benghazi in the middle of the night.

In an affidavit sent to The Shift, Pirotta confirmed that he was one of the diplomats posted in Beijing subjected to a police investigation following claims of irregularities in the issue of visas to Chinese citizens.

Insisting that at the time he had not been found guilty of any wrongdoing, Pirotta said that his “recall from China coincidentally took place during the aforementioned investigation, since I had been in the post for almost four years”.

Pirotta added that he was “always going to be recalled” since his time in China was over.

His declaration does not sit comfortably with an official statement issued by the Foreign Affairs Ministry at the time, which clearly stated that both Pirotta, who was Counsellor, and his Ambassador Saviour Gauci were ordered back to Malta in connection with the visas scandal.

The government statement published on 9 June 2005 said there were no irregularities or criminal intent found by the police, but it had been determined that “current administrative procedures could have been followed more strictly”.

The Ministry had declared that it considered the credibility of visa processing procedures by the embassy in Beijing to have been “irreversibly prejudiced”, and that in the interest of that overseas mission “it has been decided to change all diplomatic staff currently serving in the embassy.”

This included Pirotta.

Regarding his evacuation from Libya, Pirotta said: “This took place following sensitive information which I had received and included a threat to my life. One must bear in mind that a few days before my evacuation other diplomats where (sic) in the target of the organisation which was carrying out these attacks on foreign missions. My evacuation was therefore in no way related to the issuance of visas”.

We are aware, however, that it remains a fact that there is ‘disbelief’ among Malta’s senior diplomatic officers at Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo’s choice of Pirotta as ambassador to Qatar.

Pirotta retired from the service some years ago.  In the years after the “Chinese incident”, during which he continued to serve in the diplomatic corps, he was never promoted to the rank of Ambassador despite his long career.

Now, after his retirement, Pirotta has suddenly received this rank through a direct political appointment.

Describing Pirotta as having “some colourful baggage”, members of the Maltese diplomatic corps have told us that they consider his nomination as “strange”.

His (non-)“grilling” in front of the parliamentary Public Appointments Committee was a 20-minute formality, with the Opposition’s members on the committee joining the government in showering praise on Pirotta, particularly for his command of the Chinese language.

Why this particular attribute is a plus factor for an ambassador to Qatar is open to question.


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