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21 July 2016

Saudi trafficking, Iran’s unpaid bills – what diplomats’ debts reveal about international affairs

Syria owes £40,838 in cleaning and lighting bills. 

By Julia Rampen

The United States owes British authorities £10.6million in unpaid London congestion charges, figures from the Foreign Office have revealed. 

Other foreign embassies owing millions include Japan, Nigeria, Russia, India and Germany. 

But while the world’s powers may show scant regard for Ken Livingstone’s flagship policy, when it comes to parking fines the smaller countries are the biggest offenders.

South Sudan tops the list with £53,708 owed in unpaid parking fines. Other dodgy drivers include Zambia, Liberia and Afghanistan. 

Ambassadors – led by the US – have long argued that diplomatic immunity saves them from coughing up. And perhaps it is unsurprising that a gas guzzling superpower is relaxed about such an environmental protection measure. 

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But Transport for London has demanded payment, and the Government has made concerted efforts to uncover the outstanding sums. 

Some diplomats behave particularly badly. Saudi Arabia was implicated in two cases of human trafficking, with the intention of “slavery or servitude”. It’s surprising the diplomat in question didn’t just wait to go home, where domestic slavery is rife. In one case involving Mexico, a child was forced to look at an indecent image. But other countries limited themselves to driving offences.

The list of fee dodgers also tells the story of Britain’s connection with international affairs.

The new Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, said in a statement that money owed for cleaning and lighting bills had jumped 22 per cent in 2015, to £907,976. 

He added: “However, £40,838 of this outstanding debt is owed by Syria – which is not currently represented in the UK and we have therefore been unable to pursue this debt. 

“A further £87,020 is owed by Iran, the majority of which was accrued during its Embassy’s closure between 2011 and 2015. The Iranian Embassy has now reopened and the FCO will be requesting payment of what is owed.”

Note to nation states negotiating nuclear deals: the UK has a long memory…

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