US embassy owes London £14.6M in unpaid traffic charges

LONDON — The U.S. embassy in London has racked up more than £14 million in unpaid traffic charges, the most of any embassy in the U.K. capital, official figures show.

A freedom of information release by Transport for London (TfL), responsible for the transport network in the city, found that the American embassy had accumulated debts of £14.6 million over 20 years, when the capital’s congestion charge was brought in.

London’s congestion charge was introduced to ease traffic in the busy city. It’s a daily fee that applies to most vehicles between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays and 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. at weekends.

TfL said in a statement that while most embassies in London pay their fees “a stubborn minority … refuse to do so, despite our representations through diplomatic channels.”

It added: “We will continue to pursue all unpaid congestion charge fees and related penalty charge notices, and are pushing for the matter to be taken up at the international court of justice.”

The Japanese Embassy was second on the list, owing more than £10 million, while the Indian High Commission owed £8.5 million. Among all embassies, the total unpaid figure from 2003 to December last year was £143.5 million.

A spokesperson for the U.S. embassy said: “In accordance with international law as reflected in the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, our position is that the congestion charge is a tax from which diplomatic missions are exempt.”

That’s a position disputed by the London transport body, which said “the congestion charge is a charge for a service and not a tax. This means that diplomats are not exempt from paying it.”