- The Washington Times - Monday, July 9, 2007

U.S. taxpayers send tens of millions of dollars in foreign aid to the Republic of Liberia, yet the West African nation owes the D.C. government back taxes on its 16th Street embassy property in Northwest, city records show.

Liberia owes more than $40,000 on two lots, according to the District’s tax sale list, which details more than 3,000 properties whose commercial and residential owners owe back taxes.

Embassies of more than a dozen other countries — including Albania, Angola, Armenia, Hungary, Latvia, Macedonia, Peru, the Philippines and Qatar — also appear on the list, owing a total of nearly $250,000.

Officials at the Liberian Embassy did not return phone messages last week.

Maryann Young, a spokeswoman for the city’s Office of Chief Financial Officer, said all of the countries will be removed from the list when the District’s tax sale begins today.

The appearance of foreign embassies on the list is unusual because diplomatic properties generally are not subject to property taxes.

In a tax sale, the District auctions off tax liens to force property owners to pay off their debts.

The lien gives the winning bidder the right to full payment of the lien amount plus interest. If the property owner doesn’t pay, the lien purchaser has the right to foreclose.

However, D.C. tax officials say none of the embassies is in danger of foreclosure action.

In many cases, Miss Young said, the unpaid taxes levied on the embassies stem from liens that existed before the consulates purchased the properties. In other instances, the countries did not file for or receive tax-exempt status “in a timely process,” she said.

Without the tax-exempt status, the embassies continued to be subject to D.C. property taxes, she said.

“Some involve discussions with the State Department about their tax status,” Miss Young said. “But considering the number of diplomatic properties in D.C., these represent a very, very small amount.”

The D.C. Water and Sewer Authority encountered a similar situation last year with Libya.

The Washington Times reported that WASA denied water service to the Libyan Embassy because of more than $27,000 in liens. The agency reinstated water service after being hit with a lawsuit that stated Libyan officials were not responsible for the debt.

According to the city’s tax sale list, foreign embassy tax debts range from a few hundred dollars to more than $40,000 for Libya. Others include the Philippines with $34,395, Latvia at $33,757, Macedonia at $18,304, and the education office of the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China with $16,405.