Diplomatic debt mountain grows

Foreign diplomats in London owe £58m in congestion charges since the scheme’s 2003 launch, the Foreign Office says.

According to figures released in a written Commons statement, US diplomats have built up outstanding fines of over £6m, while Russia and Japan owe more than £4m each and Germany owes £3m.

A total of 64 diplomatic missions owe more than £100,000 in congestion charges, which many refuse to pay because they consider it to be a local tax for which diplomats should be exempt under the Vienna Conventions.

However, the FCO and Transport for London argue the Congestion Charge is a charge for a service and is therefore in accordance with the Vienna Conventions.

Separate figures on parking tickets show Nigerian diplomats as the worst offenders, owing more than £67,000, followed by Turkey (£28,230) and Afghanistan (£14,495).

However, through negotiations with the Foreign Office, parking fines have been reduced by £146,000 to just over £330,000.

The FCO also released figures detailing unpaid business rates. Ivory Coast, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe are the most in arrears with but the Foreign Office has managed to claw back almost £150,000 making the total outstanding debt £565,000.

Serious crimes allegedly committed by diplomats saw a decline from 15 offences in 2010 to 13 in 2011. These are crimes that would normally carry a custodial sentence of 12 months or more.

According to the statement, five diplomats were alleged to have been driving while drunk during 2011; one each from Ukraine, Angola, Kuwait, Korea, and Kazakhstan.

Also in 2011, an Egyptian diplomat was alleged to have committed sexual assault, and a Kazakhstan diplomat was alleged to have committed actual bodily harm.

In 2006 the FCO introduced the ‘naming and shaming’ of missions whose staff are accused of alleged serious offences, in a bid to deter transgressions. The policy has seen alleged crimes drop significantly. But the level of crime is considered relatively low for a community of 22,500 people.