Britain’s new foreign secretary Boris Johnson has informed the House of Commons that more than £95 million are owed by foreign missions, including nearly £4.5 million by the Indian high commission, who refuse to pay London’s congestion charge.
Johnson released the list in a written reply last week that includes parking fines owed by foreign missions and details of 11 serious offences committed by diplomats of nine missions who have avoided prosecution due to diplomatic immunity.
Every vehicle entering a zone in central London marked by the letter “C” needs to pay £11.50 per day from Monday to Friday between 7 am and 6 pm (some emergency vehicles are exempted) as congestion charge. Failure to pay invites a penalty of £130.
The United States with £10.6 million tops the list of nearly 70 London-based missions who do not pay the charge, while India is fifth. The charge was introduced in 2003 to raise funds to improve London’s transport infrastructure.
Described by Transport for London (TfL) officials as the ‘stubborn minority’, the missions refuse to pay the charge for their vehicles on the ground that it is a ‘tax’ and as such they are exempted from paying it under the Vienna Convention.
A spokesperson of the Indian high commission told Hindustan Times: “We believe that the congestion charge imposed by the UK authorities was not a service charge but a tax, which should be exempted under the Vienna Convention and therefore the Indian high commission, like several diplomatic missions in London, do not pay the congestion charge.”
TfL has been seeking a solution to the impasse in the International Court of Justice for some years. “We and the UK government are clear that the congestion charge is a charge for a service and not a tax. This means that diplomats are not exempt from paying it,” a spokesperson said.
“Around three quarters of embassies in London do pay the charge, but there remains a stubborn minority who refuse to do so, despite our representations through diplomatic channels.”
Johnson said the 11 serious offences, including six related to driving (under the influence of alcohol or driving without insurance), were committed by diplomats in 2015. Other offences included human trafficking and slavery.
The diplomats who claimed diplomatic immunity were attached to the missions of the Commonwealth Secretariat, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Nigeria, US, St Lucia, Kazakhstan, China and Gabon.
Johnson said: “Around 22,500 people are entitled to diplomatic immunity in the United Kingdom and the majority of diplomats abide by UK law. The number of alleged serious crimes committed by members of the diplomatic community in the UK is proportionately low.”
“Under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961, those entitled to immunity are expected to obey the law. The FCO does not tolerate foreign diplomats breaking the law. We take all allegations of illegal activity seriously”.