Foreign diplomats residing in the Swiss capital of Bern are hiding behind the veil of diplomatic immunity to avoid paying traffic fines, with just one in ten who ran afoul of traffic rules last year paying up.
Of the 2,588 traffic violation notices issued to foreign diplomats in canton Bern in 2011 - worth a total SFr224,070 ($231,450) - only 215 amounting to SFr28,060, were paid, leaving a shortfall of SFr196,010, the foreign ministry said on Tuesday.
Confirming the figures which were first published in the Swiss Touring Club magazine, the foreign ministry said the statistics were compiled by Bern cantonal police.
The number of unpaid fines incurred by foreign diplomat drivers was slightly down compared to 2010, when fines worth SFr206,260 went unpaid.
Since the beginning of the year, the foreign ministry has been trying to obtain an overview of infractions committed by people driving cars with special or green diplomatic license plates, but so far, only the authorities in canton Bern have submitted figures for the last two years.
Drivers of cars with green diplomatic plates benefit from diplomatic immunity under the rules of the 1961 Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations.
In the case of non-payment of fines, traffic violation notices will usually be passed on to the foreign ministry which will in turn forward the notice to the embassies, a spokesman for Bern cantonal police said.
If the fine continues to go unpaid, the foreign ministry may exert pressure by means of a simple appeal to respect local law or by summoning the offending driver or their superior to an official meeting. In the most serious cases, the foreign ministry could seek to have the diplomatic immunity of the offending driver lifted, or have the person recalled to their home country.
A police spokesman for canton Geneva, which is home to around 40,000 foreign public servants covered by diplomatic immunity, said the majority pay their traffic fines in the proper manner.