Diplomats could lose plates over too many parking tickets

Sunday, August 25, 2002

NEW YORK -- Diplomats who don't pay parking tickets could lose their license plates under an agreement to end a years-long international dispute over unpaid citations in the city.

The deal announced last week between the State Department and Mayor Michael Bloomberg's office also cuts the number of diplomatic parking spots by about 75 percent.

"We think it will finally solve a problem that has perplexed this city for a long time," Bloomberg said at a news conference.

The city claimed officials regularly ignored parking rules as they ran up $21.3 million in outstanding fines.

Diplomatic immunity extends to parking tickets but does not cover consular officials working in the city's 289 missions and consulates.

Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani threatened to tow scofflaw diplomatic vehicles and auction them. Secretary of State Colin Powell intervened earlier this month, a day before Bloomberg had vowed to begin towing illegally parked consular vehicles.

Under the agreement, consular cars that have not paid 60 percent of their outstanding tickets by Sept. 1 will have their special plates revoked.

After Nov. 1, the State Department will revoke the license plates of consular cars or refuse to renew the registrations of diplomatic vehicles when three or more parking tickets issued are not paid within 100 days. If 40 or more tickets go unpaid, nations will lose their parking spaces.

Those spaces reserved for consulates and missions will dwindle from 2,600 to just 530 by November.

Bloomberg said the city will allow nations to settle their debts if they pay between 60 percent and 75 percent of their fines by the end of the year.

Of the $21.3 million the city says it is owed, Egypt leads the list, with $1.63 million from 15,924 tickets. Nigeria, Kuwait, Indonesia, Russia, Brazil and Morocco all owe more than $500,000.

The phone rang unanswered Thursday at the Egyptian consulate. The Nigerian consulate declined comment.

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