WITNESS: My Sicilian parking ticket hell

Sun Jul 15, 2007 12:14am EDT

Reuters correspondent Giles Elgood generally tries to obey the law, but on this occasion he fell foul of authorities in Sicily, Italy. In the following story, he recounts his frustration as he repeatedly attempts to pay his debt after being tracked down by the Italian consulate in London.

By Giles Elgood

LONDON (Reuters) - When the registered letter from the Italian consulate arrived, I reluctantly concluded it was time to pay up.

I'd been given a ticket for parking illegally on the pavement near the Greek temples at Agrigento in southern Sicily more than a year ago. My excuse? Everyone was doing it and the car park looked full.

I'd forgotten about it. After all, nobody pays parking fines in Italy, do they? Isn't there an official amnesty for these things every now and then? Or maybe that's France.

Anyway, they had managed to track me down after all these months, so maybe I should do the right thing. I'd been a fugitive for too long and it was time to turn myself in.

It was a decision I would come to question as the weeks rolled past and I repeatedly failed to pay my fine of 83 euros ($110) including "expenses for notification and procedures."

The consulate letter was no help. Don't contact us, was the message, deal with the police in Agrigento.

But the only clue on the accompanying legal document, that payment should be made to police headquarters, had been carefully crossed out (in four languages).

An Internet search yielded a phone number for the Agrigento police. An Italian-speaking friend managed to get through, but was told to contact the local bank.

The Sicilian bank came up with an account number and other codes needed for an international transfer. Now off to my local bank to send the money and pay my debt to Italian society.

What could be simpler? Except that a week later I get a letter from Charlene at my bank. They've been trying to send the money, but it bounces back. Could I call?

SECRET CODES

The transfer codes were wrong. The main one, the mysterious IBAN, needs to be 27 letters and numbers long and the one I gave was only 12 numbers.

Back at the office, we try to call the Sicilian bank and the Agrigento police, but we can't get through. Another look at the town Web site shows there is someone we can reach by email.

A letter of elaborate courtesy is composed, in Italian, posing the request: I'd like to pay my fine, please. Any chance you could reveal the codes and account numbers?

The email bounces back. If Signor Nucera was once the point man for emails to the Agrigento police, he is no more.

We ring the police again and are told payment instructions should be on the ticket, which of course they are not.

Another Italian-speaking friend calls up again, and is given the codes and account number, but these turn out to be exactly the same as the ones that didn't work first time round.

There must be a chic, Italian way round this. Yes, there is, says a colleague in Rome: don't pay.

I think of the 20 other cars that were given tickets for parking in the same place as I did. They must have been foreign tourists too. What are they doing? Nothing, I should imagine.

But back to reality. It's time for a new approach. Somebody in my bank must talk to the bank in Italy. They both will speak the language of banks and I will get the codes.

I call up my bank, who are reluctant, fearing a breach of privacy. I persuade them and the precious code is divulged.

Back at the bank, off goes the money again. I receive a letter confirming that the transfer has indeed been remitted.

My Sicilian parking ticket hell must surely now be at an end. I need fear nothing next time I land at Fiumicino.

But at the letter's end it says: "This notification is not confirmation of receipt of funds by the beneficiary..."

Well, I gave it my best shot. If the Sicilian police still haven't got their money, they know where to find me.