Undiplomatic row as envoys evade £3m in fines
FOREIGN envoys in Britain have used their immunity from prosecution to rack up a total of £3 million in unpaid fines and 11 serious criminal offences, it was revealed yesterday.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, apparently tiring of foreign officials' abuses of their privileges, took the step of releasing details of the transgressions to parliament.
The biggest liberty with fines is taken with London's congestion charge.
Earlier this year, it emerged that the United States embassy refuses to pay the toll, considering it a tax.
But yesterday it was confirmed that the US, which owes 62,000, is only the tenth-worst offender. Topping the list is the United Arab Emerates, whose envoys owe Mayor Ken Livingstone 452,650, with 4,859 fines outstanding.
In all, ten countries owe the London authorities 1.9 million for 20,804 fines.
More than 4,000 tickets are outstanding against cars with diplomatic licence plates from the year 2004. The associated fines are worth 361,830.
Enjoying rare renown at the top of the parking-fine league table is Kazakhstan.
The central Asian republic's mission owes 23,870 for 246 outstanding tickets. Saudi Arabian envoys have 243 fines worth 21,980.
Adding spice to Britain's increasingly heated negotiations over the European Union budget, some of the biggest EU powers also have outstanding parking fines. German diplomats owe 12,280 for 128 tickets and the French embassy has 90 tickets and a 8,360 bill.
While diplomatic missions are largely exempt from paying taxes, most embassies and high commissions are liable to pay something towards local street lighting, cleaning and fire services.
Here again, some missions see an opportunity to test their diplomatic licence to the limit. Unpaid rates bills were worth 880,000 as of 1 July.
The Chinese embassy in London has so far declined to pay a bill for 62,320. Zimbabwe's envoys owe 54,605.
And in perhaps the most alarming revelation, the FCO said that during 2004, diplomats had been responsible for a number of "serious" criminal offences, crimes which would be punishable by prison sentences of 12 months or more.
In all, 11 such alleged offences were reported to the FCO. None of the accused ever faced trial in Britain.
But the right of a foreign power's representatives to go unmolested by the law has been an accepted part of international politics for centuries. Immunity was formalised in the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
What countries owe in London congestion charges:
United Arab Emirates 452,650
Sierra Leone 135,290
South Africa 122,590
United States 62,250
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Saturday 18 May 2013
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