Disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat and his wife, Michelle, are still using a diplomatic passport to travel, over four years after he was forced to resign amid nationwide protests and despite the fact they are both currently under investigation for various wrongdoings.
Muscat was awarded the diplomatic passport when he resigned in 2019 as a part of his severance package. A follow-up “diplomatic passport policy” issued by the Foreign Affairs Ministry in July 2021 and seen by The Shift reinforces his eligibility and that of former presidents, foreign ministers and their spouses.
The act of issuing diplomatic passports to former leaders and high officials is not uncommon and takes place in Italy, the US, Australia, and several Asian countries. However, issuing one to a prime minister who resigned and is subject to an investigation does not appear to be the norm.
Muscat resigned due to public outcry over corruption and links between him, his ministers, and the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. He is now subject to a magisterial inquiry on possible sleaze and corruption related to the “fraudulent” hospitals deal. Michelle is subject to an investigation by the Standards Commissioner over the abuse of public funds.
While holding a diplomatic passport does not mean the holder has diplomatic immunity in Malta, it can slow down arrests on foreign soil. If an arrest outside of Malta is needed, the foreign government can ask the Maltese foreign office to lift the immunity in cases of the need for interrogation or if there is grave suspicion of wrongdoing.
Concerns over the privileges offered by retaining the diplomatic passport were raised in spring 2023 when the fact came to light through Abela’s replies to a parliamentary question. Then-Chair of ADPD, Carmel Cacopardo, had said the passport gives a number of rights which “bearing in mind the serious circumstances which led to Joseph Muscat resigning as prime minister, create further suspicions on his actions which still await in-depth criminal investigation.”
Prime Minister Robert Abela had told parliament that Muscat and his wife were given the right to use a diplomatic passport as part of his lucrative severance package, which also included an unprecedented €120,000 cash payment, two cars, one for him and another for his wife and the use of a seafront government paid office to conduct his private consultancy business, among other benefits.