Nigerian diplomatic employees ignored 15,000 parking tickets, ranking first among diplomatic scofflaws.
Did this take place in Washington? No. It occurred in London, where 6,000 parking tickets go unpaid by diplomatic employees every month, resulting in revenue loss for the government of almost $800,000 a year. Others who have been reported to violate Britain's parking laws in large numbers include diplomats from Cuba, Saudi Arbia, Iran, Egypt and Cyprus. American diplomats are not among the leading offenders there.
The issue of diplomatic immunity and the controversy that sometimes surrounds it are part of a worldwide problem. Though practices differ from country to country, foreign diplomats often from some of the more troublesome laws and customs of the host nation.
Requirements imposed on foreign diplomats vary significantly from nation to nation, despite a succession of international agreements. A library of Congress study last year found, for that it surveyed requires U.S. diplomats stationed there to carry some form of automobile insurance. The United States, in contrast, does not require foreign diplomats here to have auto liability converage.
American diplomats abroad, like those of other nations, share some special privileges. In Italy, U.S. diplomats get a substantial discount on gasoline and do not have to pay traffic fines. American diplomats are given lenient treatment by traffic police in France, according to U.S. Embassy sources there, and do not have to pay parking fines in Israel.
While the State Department and some members of Congress are pressing for curbs on the number of foreign diplomatic employees granted immunity here from criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits, other nations also extend privileges to diplomats beyond those required by international accords.
The West German government, for example, allows diplomats immunity to lower-ranking embassy employees for offenses committed outside the scope of their work.
In Moscow, the issue of diplomatic immunity rarely arises because U.S. diplomats, like other foreigners, are largely isolated from the Soviet population. They live in specially designated quarters and have only limited contact with Soviet citizens. Normally, however, Soviet traffic police do not cite American and other diplomats for traffic violations.
Only one incident involving an American diplomat has been reported in the Soviet Union in the past two years. An agricultural aide was cited for "molesting a pig" during a drive through the Ukraine last summer. An investigation indicated that the diplomat had made an unauthorized lunch stop beside a road. A local policeman, for lack of a more approporiate charge, cited him for the violation. The Soviet government never took any further action against the U.S. diplomat.