London mayor accuses US diplomats of city law violation

The mayor of London on Tuesday accused diplomatic staff at the U.S. Embassy of breaking the law by refusing to pay a local road fee. Diplomats at the U.S. Embassy in London are refusing to pay the eight pound US$13.96, daily congestion charge, required of most vehicles entering high-traffic areas of London during working hours.

The embassy argues the charge is a direct tax that, under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 1963, should not be leveled at diplomats, according to the AP.

But a spokesman for the office of Mayor Ken Livingstone said the congestion charge was a payment for a service and not a tax.

"All staff at the American embassy should pay the congestion charge, in the same way as British officials pay road tolls in the United States. To refuse to do so in either case is to break the law of the host country," a spokesman from the mayor's office said.

The German Embassy said its diplomatic staff were also refusing to pay the charge.

"The legal department of the home office in Berlin determined that the charge is by nature a tax," a spokesman for the embassy said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

He said when the embassy received fines for not paying the charge it sent them to Berlin, where the German Foreign Office settled the issue with the British government.

The embassies of Switzerland, Canada, Japan, Australia, Spain and Sweden said their diplomats all paid the charge.

A spokesman for Transport for London, the authority which enforces the congestion charge, said it was not a tax and diplomats should be required to pay.

"The congestion charge gives no privileges to any VIPs, including the mayor, MPs (members of parliament), assembly members or councilors, therefore we believe diplomats should pay," the spokesman said.

The central London congestion charge was introduced in 2003 in an effort to improve traffic flow, encourage people to use public transport and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.

Disabled drivers, cab drivers, bus drivers and drivers of roadside recovery vehicles are exempt from the fee.

A U.S. Embassy spokeswoman said the embassy had only stopped paying the fee from July 1, when it was increased from five pounds US$8.73 to eight pounds US$13.96.


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