Deadbeat Diplomats

Finding a parking space in the concrete canyons of Manhattan can be daunting. Drivers who leave their cars at expired meters, double park, or park in restricted areas usually get a ticket. Most eventually pay them.

But in a city with hundreds of foreign diplomats who, by international convention, are immune from many US laws, New York City ends up with illegally parked cars and millions of dollars in unpaid parking fines.

To deal with the problem, Congress voted recently to cut US aid to the offenders' countries of origin by approximately the same amount the diplomats owe for unpaid parking violations incurred between April 1997 and September 2004. Approximately 200 countries collectively owe a whopping $195 million. Egypt alone owes $1.9 million. Nigeria, Morocco, Brazil, and Indonesia collectively have accrued $2.9 million in such fines.

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Moreover, foreign diplomats living and working in the US have immunity from paying property tax on buildings used for diplomatic purposes. But some countries have been renting out parts of their buildings, which does make them subject to property taxes. Yet some countries are ignoring those bills, too. Hungary, for instance, owes $49.7 million in back property taxes.

Some diplomats say they don't pay parking tickets because they don't understand local customs. (The British, by the way, are on record as having no unpaid parking fines.)

But now the diplomats are on notice. Parking tickets and property taxes are two "local customs" that should command greater attention.

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