UK

Diplomats owe £67m in London congestion charge fines

  • 11 July 2013
  • From the section UK
A car drives past a congestion charge mark on a London road

London's foreign diplomats owe more than £67m in congestion charge fines, the foreign secretary has said.

The US Embassy owes most with 63,000 fines totalling 7.2m, William Hague said, but the US insists diplomatic immunity covers the congestion charge.

In written statements to Parliament, Mr Hague also revealed diplomats owe £674,100 in business rates and £344,747 in London parking fines for 2012 alone.

He said 12 serious criminal allegations were made against diplomats in 2012.

The figure for unpaid congestion charges has been rising since the scheme was introduced in 2003.

After the US, Russia owes the most (£4.89 million from 42,310 fines), followed by Japan (£4.85 million from 42,206 fines).

During a visit by US President Barack Obama in 2011, London's Mayor Boris Johnson asked him for a £5m cheque for unpaid congestion charges, but the US ambassador intervened before Mr Obama could answer, the Daily Telegraph reported.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said the department considers the congestion charge a "service rendered" under diplomatic rules, though legal immunity means diplomats cannot be prosecuted for non-payment.

Nigerian diplomats owed the most in 2012 parking fines - £84,000 - while Saudi Arabia was second on the list with £24,005.

Mr Hague said officials had met with foreign missions and asked them to pay outstanding fines or appeal against them, and the new figures excluded £240,035 which had been paid or waived by councils.

Criminal allegations

Mr Hague said the Foreign Office was informed of 12 "serious offences" committed by people with diplomatic immunity in 2012.

These are defined as offences which could carry 12 months or more in prison, as well as drink-driving and driving without insurance.

He said 10 of the alleged offences were driving-related, including six for drink-driving - three by Russians.

The non-driving offences alleged were abuse of a domestic worker and causing actual bodily harm.

In the "most serious" cases the UK asks foreign governments to waive immunity to allow prosecution, or to withdraw an accused diplomat.

About 22,500 people get diplomatic immunity in the UK and Mr Hague said "the majority" abide by UK law.

According to the Foreign Office figures, 14 countries owe business rates to local authorities.

The Ivory Coast tops the list with unpaid business rates of £97,987, followed by China with £94,377.

Mr Hague said the figure of £674,100, the total amount owed on 14 June this year, took into account the fact that diplomatic missions only have to pay 6% of normal rates.

He added: "£45,219 of this outstanding debt is owed by Iran and Syria which are not currently represented in the UK. We are therefore unable to pursue these debts."

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