Missions owe £27m in fines

Foreign diplomats owe over £27m in unpaid traffic penalties, according to figures compiled by the Foreign Office.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband issued the figures in a written statement to Parliament which show that the bulk of the outstanding debt (£26,721,464) is for unpaid congestion charge fines accumulated since the introduction of the charge in 2003.

The US Embassy is the biggest infractor, owing almost £3m (£2,960,760) for 27,368 unpaid congestion charge fees, followed by Russia, which has accumulated a debt of £2,269,440 for 20,327 fines and Japan, which is £2,090,880 in the red for 19,007 instances of non-payment. A further 50 missions have outstanding penalties of over £100,000 or more.

Over a third of diplomatic missions refuse to pay the charge, claiming it is a tax, from which diplomats are exempt under the Vienna Conventions, but Transport for London claims that 99 missions still regularly pay the charge.

Caroline Pidgeon, the Liberal Democrat London Assembly Transport Spokesperson, has written to US Ambassador-designate Louis Susman urging him to reverse the policy of non-payment instituted in 2005.

“The first action of this new Ambassador should be to order that all his Embassy staff now pay the congestion charge. I can’t think of a better way for him to show to Londoners that things really have changed under Barack Obama’s new US administration,” she said, adding: “My message to the US Ambassador is quite simple – by paying up you will gain respect from Londoners. Such a step would also isolate the remaining embassies which insult Londoners every day by their refusal to pay the congestion charge and Penalty Charge Notices.”

The Foreign Secretary also revealed that London’s embassies owe £429,960 for 4021 outstanding traffic violations, such as speeding and parking tickets.

Kazakhstan tops the league, with 528 unpaid fines amounting to £58,400, followed by Sudan which owes £29,680 for 280 penalties and Afganistan, which owes 327,460 for 253 infractions. A further 57 missions owe fines totalling more than £1000.