updated 10/17/2006 11:00:56 PM ET 2006-10-18T03:00:56

The U.S. Embassy in London owes more than $1.9 million (1 million pounds) for a vehicle “congestion charge” in the British capital, the mayor’s office said on Wednesday.

London authorities say the charge on driving in the center of the city is a road toll and diplomats have to pay it like anyone else. Washington says it is a tax and diplomats are exempt.

The U.S. embassy has refused to pay the charge since July 2005. Several other embassies have also refused but London says the U.S. embassy is the worst offender by far.

London’s outspoken Mayor Ken Livingstone caused a flap earlier this year when he branded U.S. ambassador Robert Tuttle a “chiselling little crook” for refusing to pay.

The congestion charge was introduced in 2003 across an area of central London to reduce traffic, with cameras automatically recording the license plates of cars entering the zone.

Drivers who fail to pay the daily 8-pound charge by midnight the following day face a fine of up to 150 pounds.

“It is for the British authorities to decide what is a tax and what is not a tax in the UK,” Livingstone said. “Both the UK government and the Greater London Authority consider the congestion charge a charge for a service — reduced congestion. The U.S. Embassy benefits from the reduction in congestion.”

He said British diplomats in the United States paid American tolls and charges. “U.S. diplomats should respect British law and pay the congestion charge,” he added.

The U.S. Embassy could not immediately be reached for comment but has previously said its lawyers believe diplomats are exempt from the charge under treaty.

Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions.

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