Staff from foreign embassies in Britain have escaped prosecution despite allegedly committing a range of offences including human trafficking, sexual assault, threats to kill and drinking and driving.
Foreign Secretary William Hague said that a number of diplomats were responsible for “serious offences” which could carry a prison sentence of one year or more, but had escaped charges because of diplomatic immunity. These included a Saudi Arabian national who allegedly carried out a sexual assault while another from his country was supposedly engaged in human trafficking, as was a diplomat from Sierra Leone. Both the sexual assault and trafficking cases involved domestic staff brought into the UK to work at homes of diplomats, it is believed.
A Pakistani diplomat allegedly made a threat to kill someone, a Nigerian could have faced charges of actual bodily harm and one from Cameroon allegedly neglected a young person - a member of his family. A Gambian diplomat was arrested for shoplifting after leaving a London department store with unpaid for items including pairs of socks, the man is believed to be a “repeat offender”.
Diplomats from Brazil, Germany, Russia, Tanzania, the US, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Cameroon and the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) were stopped drinking and driving and one allegedly drunk Bahraini diplomat was driving uninsured.
Mr Hague also revealed that diplomatic missions owe more than £36m in unpaid London congestion charge fines, £526,300 in outstanding parking and minor traffic violations, and more than £480,000 in unpaid rates.
The US owes the most in unpaid congestion charges, £3.8m, after refusing to pay the traffic levy 35,602 times between its introduction in February 2003 and this January. Russia comes next with £ 3.2m unpaid, followed by Japan (£2.7m) and Germany (£ 2.6m).
The foreign missions maintain that they should not have to pay a “local tax” from which they are exempt, a stance which led Ken Livingstone when he was London mayor to call the then US ambassador Robert Tuttle “a chiselling little crook”.
Asked about the non-payment of congestion charges, the US embassy said in a statement that it “conscientiously abides by all UK laws, including paying fines for all traffic violations, such as parking and speeding violations”. The congestion charge, however, it insists, should not be charged to diplomats, “a position shared by many other diplomatic missions in London”.
British-born diplomats abroad have themselves avoided possible criminal charges due to diplomatic immunity, according to authorities in those countries.