'A little crook': Ken's undiplomatic name for US ambassador

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Indy Politics

The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, launched an attack on the US Ambassador yesterday, accusing him of being a "chiselling little crook".

Mr Livingstone, who was spared a suspension last month after being accused of anti-semitism, also likened Robert Tuttle to a car salesman. His comments relate to a row over whether the American Embassy should pay the £8-a-day congestion charge. The embassy stopped paying the charge for the officials shortly before the new ambassador arrived in London to take up his post last July.

Earlier, speaking at the unveiling of the new Wembley Park station yesterday, Mr Livingstone queried the motivation for the decision to stop making the payments. He said: "This new ambassador is a car salesman and an ally of President Bush. This is clearly a political decision. When British troops are putting their lives on the line for American foreign policy it would be quite nice if they paid the congestion charge," he said. "We will find a way of getting them into court either here or in America. We are not going to have them evade their responsibilities."

The US embassy is arguing that the congestion charge is a tax and as such should not apply to diplomats, whom it says are exempt. But Mr Livingstone contends that the charge is a payment for a service as it is aimed at reducing traffic, and should therefore be paid. Defending the decision to withhold the charge, US Embassy spokesman Rick Roberts said: "Mr Livingstone is wrong to say this has anything to do with the arrival of our new ambassador Robert Tuttle."

"We don't impose tax on British envoys [in America] and we don't expect to be taxed here," he said.

Staff paid the charge up until July last year but a "unilateral" decision was taken to stop payments after negotiations with the GLA broke down, Mr Roberts said, adding that local London staff pay the charge.

Mr Livingstone was later interviewed by ITV News, in which he was reported as saying: "It would be quite nice if the American ambassador in Britain could pay the charge that everybody else is paying and not try and [evade] it like some chiseling little crook."

Germany's embassy also refuses to pay the toll, but it is less of a problem as the country's embassy is outside London's toll zone, said Michael Fluegger, a German embassy spokesman.

Last week Mr Livingstone told the Reuben brothers, Jewish businessmen originally from India, that they should "go back to Iran and see if they can do better under the Ayatollahs".