Foreign diplomats dodge £111m in unpaid traffic fines

Foreign diplomats dodge £111m in unpaid traffic fines
Foreign diplomats dodge £111m in unpaid traffic fines

Foreign diplomats in the UK have dodged paying more than £111 million in traffic fines, according to new data.

Diplomats from the United States are the biggest offenders, racking up fines worth £11,929,685.

The vast majority of the charges (£11,925,920) arise from for London’s Congestion Charge but the embassy’s vehicles have also accrued £3,765 in unpaid parking fines.

Donald Trump’s recent visit saw the US President’s Beast limousine rack up £750 in Congestion Charge fees alone.

Lost revenue

The figures, obtained from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office by Hippo Leasing, show that Japan, Nigeria, Russia and India are also major fine dodgers, each having built up debts of over £5m.

US Embassy London
The US Embassy has run up outstanding charges of almost £12m in London. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

The amount owed relates to charges accrued in London, where there are 167 foreign embassies and high commissions. Other parts of the UK host 332 consulates and 19 other representations.

While the vast majority of each debt relates to the London Congestion Charge – which costs £11.50 per day – Nigeria’s High Commission has also racked up an incredible £272,740 in unpaid parking fines.

The total net income from the Congestion Charge was £155.9 million in 2017/18, revealing just how much revenue is being lost.

Immunity

Under the 1961 Vienna Convention, diplomats are immune from prosecution in their host country and from paying tax. Transport for London insists the Congestion Charge is a service fee, not a tax and says embassies are liable for the cost, although the number of unpaid charges suggest the diplomatic staff think differently.

However, immunity doesn’t mean diplomats can’t pay them and some nations honour any charges that arise from their vehicles using the capital’s roads.

According to the FCO data, diplomats from three embassies – the Central African Republic, New Zealand and Paraguay – owe absolutely nothing, having consistently settled their accrued debts over the years. Others, including Peru, Montenegro and the Netherlands have less than £100 in unpaid parking tickets.

Tom Preston, managing director of Hippo Leasing commented: “While some argue diplomatic immunity is an outdated principle and open to exploitation, foreign officials remain under no legal obligation to pay their motoring fines.

“Total debts are only set to increase following the introduction of the Ultra-Low Emission Zone in April, designed to cut traffic further and help clean up the dangerously polluted air in London. As well as looking at the economic impact of foreign diplomats driving in the Capital, it’s important to consider the environmental and public health costs too.”

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