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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 October 2005, 14:15 GMT 15:15 UK
US diplomats in London roads row
Congestion charge signs
US embassy staff say the charge is an unfair 'tax'
US diplomats who refuse to pay London's traffic congestion charge are guilty of an "abuse of hospitality", the city assembly's transport spokesman says.

Embassy staff are ignoring the 8-a-day charge, claiming they are immune from taxation in the UK under the terms of the relevant international convention.

But London Assembly transport spokesman Murad Qureshi said the charge was for a "service", rather than being a tax.

Embassy staff reportedly owe 157,000 in unpaid fines dating back to July.

'Cannot be allowed'

Jenny Jones, a Green Party member of the London Assembly, said: "This is an appalling abuse of diplomatic powers. The congestion charge benefits thousands of Londoners every day through better public transport, air quality and traffic flow.

"We cannot allow the US Embassy to drive around polluting London's air and get out of paying the congestion charge. "

SOME OTHERS NOT PAYING
Equatorial Guinea
Egypt
Germany
Libya
Mauritius
Rwanda
Saudi Arabia
South Africa
Switzerland

But David Johnson, from the US embassy, said states should not impose taxes on diplomatic residents under the terms of the Vienna Convention.

He said: "We wouldn't impose it on you and, likewise, it's not appropriate, nor is it allowed, for your government to impose it on us."

The congestion charge, introduced in 2003, increased from 5 to 8 a day in July. Since then US embassy staff have not paid it.

A survey by the Evening Standard has found that staff at as many as 55 other London embassies - including those of Germany, Switzerland and several African countries - are refusing to pay.

Fines can reach 150 per car, per day for payments due for more than 28 days.

Mr Qureshi said: "The congestion charge isn't a tax under British law.

"The charge isn't dissimilar to what we would pay to go into Manhattan via bridges and roads."

He added: "If it's good enough for British diplomats to pay for it there, I don't see why US diplomats couldn't pay it here.

"It's of direct benefit to the diplomats themselves. It will give them space to run about in London.

"This could be interpreted as an abuse of our hospitality in London. It doesn't have to go this far."


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