Joseph Muscat’s possible return to frontline politics has led to accusations he is seeking to benefit from European Parliament immunity.

The ex-prime minister’s potential election bid comes amid a money-laundering and corruption probe into his role in the failed Vitals/Steward hospitals’ concession.

Muscat, who denies wrongdoing, opened the door to the prospect of contesting the June European Parliament elections on the Labour ticket.

PN MEP candidate Peter Agius suggested that the ex-prime minister’s real game is to protect himself from prosecution, thanks to the immunity granted to all MEPs.

Labour MEP Alex Agius Saliba has dismissed the immunity argument as “frivolous”, as MEPs have even had their immunity stripped “over a simple parking ticket”.

So, what are the rules?

Much like Maltese MPs, MEPs benefit from immunity for any opinions and votes taken within parliament. In Malta, this is more commonly known as parliamentary privilege.

The immunity is meant to prevent MEPs from being impeded or intimidated by any type of judicial proceedings brought against them because of their parliamentary work.

This immunity is, however, far from absolute

Immunity in the European Parliament goes one step further, as its members also benefit from a “personal immunity” that protects them from the threat of arrest or legal proceedings during travel and in the course of their parliamentary work.

This immunity is, however, far from absolute. The European Parliament has the right to waive immunity, and generally does so, unless there are reasons to believe that a prosecution is politically motivated.

Both Muscat and, more recently, Prime Minister Robert Abela have sought to cast doubts on the integrity of the Vitals/Steward inquiry.

If local prosecutors were to proceed against Muscat, they would likely put in a request to the European Parliament to waive his immunity.

An MEP also has the right to “defend” his or her immunity in front of the EP legal affairs committee.

Muscat insists that the immunity argument is moot, as a serious investigation will find he has done nothing wrong.

MEPs do sometimes put up a legal fight to protect their immunity.

Eva Kaili, a suspect in the Qatargate bribery scandal which rocked the European Parliament, had sought to derail a separate probe by the European Public Prosecutor’s Office into her potential misuse of EU funds. 

Kaili had sought to annul a request for her immunity to be lifted as part of the investigation into alleged fraudulent payments made to four of her parliamentary assistants.

The General Court of the European Union this month dismissed the attempt as “inadmissible in its entirety”.

It said the request for the lifting of immunity is “a preliminary and necessary measure” to ensure the effectiveness of the investigations, where the immunity from which a person benefits is an obstacle to an investigation relating to him or her.

The court said that until a final decision on lifting the immunity is taken by the European Parliament, Kaili continues to benefit from the protection of the privileges and immunities granted by EU law.

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