U.N. Diplomats Rack Up Almost $18 Million in Parking Tickets

The new U.N. secretary-general expressed support Wednesday for New York City's goal of recouping nearly $18 million in traffic fines owed by U.N. diplomats and members of the consular community.

Most of that debt came prior to a city crackdown four years ago on envoys who routinely were cited for illegal parking on city streets but rarely paid because of diplomatic immunity.

When asked what he would say to diplomats to get rid of the backlog, Ban Ki-moon said: "It is important for diplomatic officials who enjoy diplomatic immunities and privileges to abide by and comply with all necessary regulations in force in the countries where one is working."

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According to the New York City Department of Finance, 99 percent of the outstanding debt by the diplomatic and consular community was incurred before a 2002 agreement between the mayor's office and the U.S. State Department to help the city collect on the unpaid tickets.

The number of tickets issued to diplomats at the United Nations and consulates in New York has been dropping since the deal and as of late December had decreased by 94.4 percent, according to the New York City Department of Finance. Only about $250,000 of unpaid fines have accumulated since the agreement, but the department said some of these violations are new or haven't gone through the courts yet.

U.N. associate spokesman Farhan Haq suggested a way for delegates to avoid the problem altogether — walking.

He noted that Ban has been walking to work from a midtown hotel while his residence is being renovated. "So maybe some people can follow his example."

Topping the Department of Finance list of countries owing the most was Egypt, racking up about $1.9 million in fines, followed by Kuwait with nearly $1.3 million. The Egyptian Mission to the United Nations said no one was available for comment.

Ban's home country of South Korea, one of 177 countries that have yet to pay city fines, owes $17,000.

Delinquent countries have not gone unpunished.

As part of the 2002 agreement, the U.S. government has been withholding, in the form of aid, the amount owed by each country, plus 10 percent on fines dating back to 1997.

Part of the agreement also stipulates that the State Department can remove license plates from a vehicles if three or more tickets issued after 2002 have not been paid within 100 days.

In the four years since the deal, the city's Department of Finance said it has collected $3 million of debt owed by countries before 2002.

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