The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has revealed that foreign diplomats to London owe £58 million in motoring fees. Foreign Secretary William Hague says that 64 diplomatic missions total owe congestion charges, some of which date back to the launch of the scheme in 2003. For example, North Korea has 1,396 congestion fines and owes £150,090.
The worst offenders are US diplomats, who have accumulated 54,156 fines worth more than £6 million. The country has long maintained that diplomatic immunity exempts it from paying congestion charges. Russians and Japanese are the second worst offenders, with over £4 million owed from each in unpaid motoring fees. Diplomats from Germany are the third worst, owing more than £3 million.
For unpaid parking fines, Hague detailed that Nigerians are the worst offenders for paying up, owing over £67,000 on fines issued just last year. Turkish and Afghanistanian diplomats were also among having the biggest total of unpaid parking tickets – owing £28,230 and £14,495 respectively – while Malaysians owe £12,555 and the French owe £12,195. For business rates, diplomats from the Ivory Coast, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh owe the most.
Hague clearly said that FCO workers have been trying to get the foreign diplomats to pay their debts. Over the course of negotiations, they were able to drop the parking fines total from more than £476,000 to just over £330,000 for last year. The total owed for business rates was reduced from £715,000 to £565,000.
Transport Minister Earl Attlee told the House of Lords last year that London Mayor Boris Johnson talked with the US President Barack Obama about unpaid congestion fees during a state visit to Britain. However, he didn’t get very far on the matter, he added. The mayor had presented Obama with a bill for over £6 million after a friendly talk at Buckingham Palace during his visit last year. The London mayor’s spokesman says the continued failure of many embassies to pay congestion charges is unacceptable. This isn’t a tax and should be paid. Johnson will continue making that clear when meeting embassy members who fail to pay, the spokesman added.
The US embassy stopped paying the fee in July 2005, saying that it was a local tax that doesn’t apply to foreign diplomats under the Vienna Convention. However, the FCO says the charge is for services rendered, of which there are no legal grounds to exempt diplomats.
Hague also noted that, even though diplomats are given immunity from criminal prosecutions, they still have to obey the law. However, diplomats from five nations are alleged to have been drink driving last year – one from each Kazakhstan, Angola, Korea, Ukraine and Kuwait. Also, an Egyptian diplomat was accused of committing sexual assault last year, while a diplomat from Kazakhstan was accused of committing actual bodily harm.
The foreign secretary says that, when police bring cases of alleged criminal conduct to their attention, they ask the relevant foreign government to waive diplomatic immunity where appropriate. They seek immediate withdrawal of the diplomat for serious offences, he added.
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