US embassy owes the Mayor £271,000

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The US embassy has racked up £271,000 in London congestion charge fines in the past six months, more than any of the other embassies which refuse to pay the charge.

Ken Livingstone, the London Mayor, has been in a stand-off with the US embassy since it decided not to pay the charge last July, arguing that it was a local tax and therefore, under the Vienna Convention, did not apply to foreign diplomats.

Mr Livingstone insists, however, that all diplomats should pay the congestion charge of £8, which covers a restricted zone in central London between 7am and 6.30pm on weekdays.

The Mayor caused controversy earlier this year when he publicly criticised Robert Tuttle, the US ambassador, during a live television interview, calling him a "chiselling little crook".

Mr Livingstone said yesterday: "It really is remarkable that the richest country in the world topped the congestion charge non-payers' league over the last six months.

"The British Government has clearly told the embassy that the congestion charge is not a tax, it is a charge for a service - reduced congestion - from which US diplomats benefit.

"British diplomats respect American law in the USA. United States diplomats should do the same in this country."

Transport for London said it would continue to pursue outstanding fines incurred by all embassies.

Although the US has chalked up the biggest fines in the past six months, the Angolan embassy owes the most overall, according to the figures released under the Freedom of Information Act, with outstanding fines of £504,405 since the scheme began in February 2003. Sudan owes £356,870, Nigeria owes £317,120 and the US owes £307,050.

Nigeria came second in the list of fines incurred in the past six months, with £202,150, followed by Angola on £127,150 and Sudan on £94,250.

Motorists are fined £100 if they fail to pay the £8 congestion charge. This is cut to £50 if paid within 14 days, but rises to £150 if unpaid.

Last month, the United Arab Emirates joined the majority of countries which pay the charge, and settled with a payment of £99,950, which was accepted by the Mayor, although the total owed was £452,000.

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