This story was done in conjunction with our radio partners at WTOP.
From the Vatican to the World Bank and just about every country in between, foreign embassies are some of the worst parking ticket scofflaws in our area.
Foreign diplomats owe hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid parking and traffic tickets in the District of Columbia. The fines total more than a half a million dollars including late fees and include parking violations such as no standing/parking during rush hour, parking in a loading zone and moving violations such as speeding.
According to records provided to WTOP and ABC 7 by The District's Department of Motor Vehicles, cars with diplomatic license plates owe $340,037 in fines dating back to 1970. That number does not include all late fees owed. Under D.C. Law unpaid fines double after 30 days. The majority of the 7,611 unpaid tickets are more than 30 days outstanding.
Russia tops the list, owing $27,200 in original fines for 892 tickets. The Holy See is at the bottom with 1 outstanding $25 ticket for an expired meter. Other notables include Afghanistan owing $2,835, Iraq has $1,810 overdue and the World Bank owes $1,525 for 25 outstanding tickets.A graphic showing the big offenders.
The District is a distant second in jurisdictions where diplomats don't pay their parking tickets. According to Congressman Michael Grimm (R-NY) New York City is owed $17.2 million in unpaid parking tickets. Home to the United Nations as well as 289 foreign missions and consulates, Grimm says there should be no such thing as diplomatic immunity from parking tickets in the Big Apple.
"New York City's budget is tight enough as it is, and foreign diplomats do not deserve a free pass at the expense of New York City taxpayers."
The United States Department of State appears to agree, on paper. In 1993 the Secretary of State issued Diplomatic Note 94-333 informing embassies in the District of Columbia that they would not be able to renew vehicle registrations if parking tickets went unpaid for more than a year.
Ten years later another Diplomatic Note went out, this time to embassies in D.C. and New York. Embassies were warned that foreign assistance would be withheld if tickets went unpaid.
Despite several requests, a spokesperson for the State Department did not provide any examples of aid or vehicle registrations being withheld as the result of unpaid parking tickets, but issued this statement:
"The Department's Office of Foreign Missions informs missions of their obligations under international law to respect local law and that includes paying or contesting any parking or moving violations that they receive,” said Harry Edwards, Press Officer U.S. Department of State. “A method OFM employs to persuade compliance is to deny vehicle registration renewals for individuals/missions with unpaid District of Columbia and New York City parking tickets."
Grimm along with several other New York congressmen are hoping to compel the State Department to enforce the 1993 and 2004 Diplomatic Notes. Earlier this year Grimm introduced legislation establishing appropriate sanctions and procedures to ensure that the fines are paid and the money goes to the local jurisdictions. That legislation is pending in committee.
Because the license plates and registrations for diplomatic cars are issued by the Department of State, there's not much else local governments can do.
Diplomatic vehicles do not have to go through the inspection and registration process at a local DMV. The cars however are not exempt from one tool local governments have at their disposal. According to a spokesperson for the District's Department of Public Works the city does boot diplomatic cars with overdue tickets as well as tow embassy vehicles parked in rush hour zones.
For more on Mark Segraves' story, tune in to WJLA/ABC7 at 5 p.m.