President Obama should order fines paid

Londonwide Assembly Member Murad Qureshi has written to President Obama requesting a Presidential Decree to ensure the US Embassy in London pays its backlog of congestion charge fines.

Transport for London have given up trying to recover parking and congestion charge fines from foreign embassies and have passed the problem to the Foreign Office to sort out.

Foreign Embassies now owe a total of £28 million in unpaid fines and the US Embassy is by far the worst offender, with over £3 million pounds owing in congestion charge fines alone.

Murad Qureshi said: "At a time when Londoners are having to tighten their belts it is very unfair that foreign diplomats are simply refusing to pay their way.  Transport for London has a funding gap yet the US Embassy owes London millions in unpaid fines."

Murad said: "Diplomats the world over are granted many special privileges in their host country, but these charges and fines are not covered under any such arrangement. The US Embassy should set an example by acting responsibly and coughing up like everyone else."

Ends.

Notes

1. Murad Qureshi AM is a Londonwide Assembly Member. He is Labour’s spokesperson on the environment.

2. The Foreign Office has taken over the collection of unpaid congestion charges and parking fines by overseas embassies in London which now stand at £28 million.

3. The American embassy owes £3 million in outstanding fines, followed by the Russian at £2.6 million, the Japanese owe £2.3 million, and the Germans, £2.12 million.

4. The total has more than doubled from £12 million in the last 12 months according to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

5. None of the embassies are entitled to exemptions from the congestion charges or parking fines although the American embassy has consistently objected to the requirement.

6. Murad has previously asked formal questions of the Mayor on this:
http://www.london.gov.uk/mqt/public/question.do?id=26632

7. Murad Qureshi wrote to President Obama on 7th July 2009 thus:

Dear President Obama

US Embassy’s non-payment of Congestion Charge in London

I feel it is only right to bring to your attention a matter which has cast an unnecessary shadow over relations between the US Embassy to Britain and the people of London since 2003, in the hope that you will reverse a mean-spirited decision taken under your predecessor’s administration by the former US Ambassador to the UK, not to honour the Embassy’s financial obligations to their host city with regard to the cost of driving in central London.

In response to rising pollution levels and near-gridlock levels of congestion in Central London, the previous Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, bravely introduced a radical, controversial and highly successful daily congestion charge for cars entering a specified Central London zone.  The Mayor did not seek to bar cars from London, merely to discourage their use in the most congested and most polluted area of the city.  This charge was set initially at £5 per vehicle per day and was later increased to £8 in order to maintain its deterrent effect. 

Thanks to our good public transport system, many Londoners choose not to own a car, and indeed for many there is simply no need – especially for those whose main journey is a commute from the suburbs into central London.

Mr Tuttle steadfastly refused to pay London’s congestion charge, wrongly claiming it to be a tax from which foreign diplomats are exempt.  Many here feel this was an ignoble attitude from the Ambassador of the wealthiest country on earth, and one which has set an unfortunate tone, and a poor example for other Embassies to follow.

As at 3rd June 2009, the US Embassy owes the Mayor’s transport department, Transport for London,  £3,478,200 in unpaid charges and late payment fines, and is by far the worst offender for non-payment.  This sum is considerably higher than the amounts other Embassies of far lower status than the USA owe to Londoners.

I know you are seeking to introduce new era of international relations with your Presidency, one based on decency and mutual respect, and in that spirit I respectfully ask you to advise the new Ambassador to London of the longer benefits of adopting a more honourable stance with regard to complying with local expectations.  Please issue a Presidential decree that the new Ambassador should reverse Mr Tuttle’s decision and ensure that the US Embassy in London pays the congestion charge in future, and repays the outstanding charges to make good the errors of the past.

Yours sincerely

Murad Qureshi AM
LONDON ASSEMBLY MEMBER