Fine to be a Diplomat -- They Just Don't Pay Fines

By | July 7, 2008 | 8:19 PM EDT

( - Among the perks afforded to foreign diplomats living in the United States, dodging parking tickets may not be listed in any official manual - but it happens all the time, and at considerable expense to many cities.

Figures obtained by the New York Daily News show diplomats from the 289 missions and consulates in New York City received more than $21 million dollars in penalties and fines on more than 200,000 parking tickets issued between 1997 and 2000.

However, New York City officials reported receiving only $160,600 from tickets issued to an estimated 2,700 vehicles with diplomatic (DPL) tags. A crackdown on scofflaws by Mayor Rudy Giuliani apparently did not motivate many diplomats to pay what they owe.

According to city officials, the Clinton administration is partly responsible. The Clinton State Department, fearing international reprisals, backed away from a 1997 compromise that would have allowed the city to tow DPL vehicles and suspend their registrations.

"We have very few legal remedies because of international law," said New York City Finance Commissioner Andrew Eristoff. "We can't execute a judgment against a vehicle that enjoys diplomatic protection, so they are less likely to meet their obligations."

Many of the citations were for parking in front of fire hydrants, parking in loading zones, expired meters, double-parking, blocking crosswalks, and even parking on the sidewalk.

Topping the list of New York City parking scofflaws is Egypt, according to reports. Egyptian diplomats chalked up 15,924 violations with penalties of nearly $1.7 million, but they paid just $965 from 1997 through 2000.

Kuwait, which has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world, paid nothing on its
fines totaling $981,571. Sudan, which the U.S. considers an outlaw nation, owes the city $425,000 in fines on nearly 4,000 tickets.

Nigeria owes more than $1.1 million in fines, but it has paid only $1,500 to date. Indonesia, Russia, Brazil, Morocco, Malaysia, China, and Pakistan also make the list of nations that habitually violate parking laws in New York.

A representative of the Kuwaiti mission to the UN, who refused to identify himself, said, "I can't deny we sometimes illegally park, but there are not enough places to park, and sometimes we get tickets when we park legally."

An official with the Egyptian delegation, who asked not to be identified, said in many cases, "Other nation's diplomatic cars are parked in their (Egypt) designated spaces. This forces us to have to park somewhere else."

Calls to the missions of China, Pakistan, Sudan, Brazil, Indonesia, and Malaysia were not returned. Representatives at the missions to Russia and Morocco declined comment.

According to United Nations, diplomats can park free of charge in the 1,200-space multi-level UN garage located under the United Nations complex. For the average citizen, parking in a garage on the East Side of Manhattan can cost up to $35 a day.

City officials said the diplomats get away with illegal parking because of diplomatic immunity. They also said leaders of missions and consulates receive a monthly report informing them how much is owed on parking violations.