US embassy racks up £11 million traffic debt in London

Many foreign embassies in London have racked up large unpaid congestion charges | Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images

Many foreign governments refuse to pay the congestion charge, saying it is a tax.

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The U.S. embassy in London owes more than £11 million in traffic charges, according to British government figures.

Staff at the embassy in Grosvenor Square, in the swanky Mayfair district, have racked up an £11,544,455 debt for unpaid congestion charge payments.

There were 96,274 separate fines between the charge being introduced in February 2003 and December 31, 2016, according to Transport for London figures. The numbers were made available Wednesday as part of the latest written statements given by ministers and government departments.

Drivers have to pay a daily fee to drive into central London during weekdays.

Also in the top 10 list of non-payers are Japan (£7,629,370 owed), Russia (£5,603,320), Germany (£4,221,590) and Poland (£3,854,130).

The total amount owed in congestion charge payments by foreign governments is £105,419,835, according to the figures.

The fines have been allowed to mount up because of an argument over whether the charge is for a service or merely a tax for going in and out of central London. Diplomats tend to argue the latter, saying it is covered by diplomatic immunity. The U.S. decided on its stance on the subject in 2005.

Transport for London says diplomats are not exempt from the congestion charge and a “stubborn minority” refuse to pay, according to the BBC.

In February, Transport for London wrote to Boris Johnson, now foreign secretary and a former mayor of London, urging him to take foreign governments to international courts to make them pay the congestion charge. Such a move would need government support.

The congestion charge was introduced by former London mayor Ken Livingstone in February 2003, with the aim of reducing traffic congestion in central London between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays. The current charge is £11.50 a day.

Source: Politico

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