Russian diplomats owe Australia almost $90,000 in traffic and parking fines they are refusing to pay, with some infringements issued as far back as 2007.
There is slim chance the hundreds of overdue tickets, many issued in Canberra, will ever be paid.
The rules of diplomatic immunity mean foreign officials in Australia cannot be pursued through the legal system for overdue traffic infringements.
All they can do is repeatedly ask the embassies involved to ensure their staff pay the fines issued to them.
It leaves the door open for foreign governments to flout local traffic laws and ignore any penalties being sought.
While most foreign embassies place strict rules on their staff to ensure local laws – including traffic and parking laws – are obeyed, some have a more relaxed approach and appear happy for their employees to ignore infringement notices.
According to Freedom of Information documents obtained by Guardian Australia, Russian diplomats have overtaken Saudi Arabian diplomats for the number of unpaid fines.
The Saudi’s backlog of fines from recent years appears to have been cleared, while Russia’s continues to pile up.
The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations insists that while foreign diplomats have immunity, they must respect local laws.
The convention is the only real tool Australian officials can use to help recover payment from overdue fines.
According to the documents, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has repeatedly asked the Russian embassy to adhere to the convention.
DFAT’s chief of protocol Ian McConville wrote to Russian ambassador Alexy Pavlovsky late last year asking that the fines be paid.
According to The Guardian, the ambassador was also warned that FOI requests could make the enormity of the infringement backlog known publicly.
“As you are aware, road safety is a matter of significant community concern in Australia,” Mr McConville wrote.
“We would also appreciate it if you could remind staff and their dependents of their responsibility under article 41.1 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations to respect Australia’s laws and regulations.”
The Russian embassy has not commented on the issue, but other foreign missions located in the nation’s capital are concerned that locals will tar all diplomats with the same brush.
One head of mission spoke to Region on the assurance of anonymity.
“Most of us obey the rules because we are from law-abiding countries ourselves,” they said.
“It does not paint a nice picture of diplomacy if local laws are ignored.
“We would hope that the Australian community does not place us all in the same basket.”
But while it appears Russia is the worst offender, the report lists a host of other foreign embassies that have recently had DFAT letters issued to them over (much smaller sums of) unpaid traffic infringements, including the UK and the USA.
ACT road authorities can issue fines and, in collaboration with DFAT, suspend the licences of drivers from the diplomatic corps who have racked up too many demerit points or have unpaid fines.
But that is as far as their power reaches.
In the end, getting traffic fines paid comes down to the mindset of the diplomats and the embassies employing them and whether they think local rules should apply to them.