Just days after a South African diplomat refused to be tested for drunk driving in Oslo, after crashing into another car and injuring its driver, other local embassies are being accused of also flaunting local laws and regulations. One small embassy with only five employees currently has more than 100,000 unpaid parking tickets, with several other embassies opting to ignore such fines as well.
Newspaper Aftenposten reported on Thursday that embassies in Oslo collectively boast the dubious distinction of having a total of 305,500 unpaid parking tickets. Norwegians who refuse to pay parking tickets face stiff fines and can lose the right to use their vehicles or even be sent to jail. Foreign diplomats who internationally can enjoy the privilege of diplomatic immunity face no such punishment when they flaunt local laws. Critics claim that doing so, however, undermines the purpose of immunity.
‘At their mercy’
“We have no sanctions to back up demands for parking fines because of diplomatic immunity,” one local tax official, Astri Marija Rosenqvist, told Aftenposten. “We’re at the mercy of them choosing to make things right.” Not all of the embassies do, and diplomats’ refusal to pay parking fines has been a problem for years.
Ranking highest on the current list of unpaid fines, compiled by the Norwegian capital’s tax office (Oslo kemnerkontor), is the Embassy of Georgia, located in an office building on a busy downtown street. It owed fines on 101,850 parking tickets as of January 5, with its five employees thus standing for fully a third of all the embassies’ unpaid parking tickets. Aftenposten reported that no one at the embassy was willing to comment, but in an email sent to the paper later, it was written that “The Embassy of Georgia is aware of the issue and we are working on it.”
Next on the list of unpaid parking tickets is the Embassy of Morocco, with 30,150, followed by Vietnam’s embassy, with 25,600. After that come the embassies of Iraq (22,800), China (17,700), Macedonia (15,150), Pakistan (11,700), Iran (11,25o) and Israel (8,250).
Russians straightened up
One embassy was hailed for making good on its parking tickets and opting to pay its fines: Russia. The Russian Embassy in Oslo once ranked as among the worst offenders, topping the tax office’s delinquency list as far back as 2004 and holding 144,450 unpaid parking fines just three years ago. Not any more.
“They’re not high on our list at all,” Kristian Melsæter, spokesman for the Oslo tax office, told Aftenposten. “That is, they’re down to a shared 17th place right now, owing NOK 2,250.” It thus appears the Russian diplomats have followed up on a press officer’s statement in 2013 that the embassy would be imposing “more discipline” and had informed embassy staff “that we should do everything we can to obey the Norwegian parking regulations.”
Oslo’s regulations are, in general, much stricter than those found in many cities around the world, and have long been contested by locals as well. Some joke that parking patrols write out tickets to fulfill budget quotas, or even to help pay for annual holiday parties. That’s firmly denied by city officials, who contend they’re merely trying to keep the streets safe and unobstructed.
Others take the parking infractions, along with embassies’ tendency to ignore other local labour and tax rules, more seriously, with veteran Norwegian diplomat Thorvald Stoltenberg suggesting earlier this week that diplomats risk being guilty of abusing their privileges and undermining the intention of diplomatic immunity. He thinks diplomats should be held accountable for local law violations, not least in cases of drunk driving. He said he personally chose to pay parking tickets while posted in such cities as San Francisco and Copenhagen.