New York City Sues Turkey
For Not Paying Property Tax
By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
After alienating Washington by not allowing American troops to cross its
territory to attack Iraq, Turkey is now antagonizing New York by refusing to
pay property taxes it has owed the city during the past 20 years.
The attorneys for the City of New York filed a lawsuit on April 9 against
the Republic of Turkey in Manhattan Supreme Court to recover over $70
million owed in back taxes, including $62 million in interest.
New York City officials accused Turkey of using part of its diplomatic
offices, an 11 story building located at 821 United Nations Plaza in
Manhattan, for unofficial commercial purposes, thereby violating its
New York's mayor, Michael Bloomberg told the N.Y. Post: "although we are
proud to be the host city of the United Nations, one thing we simply cannot
afford is to be taken advantage of by our guests. The vast majority of
foreign countries and other foreign entities in the city ... pay their
real-estate taxes in a timely manner. Unfortunately, there are a handful of
countries that consistently fail to pay these taxes."
Finance Commissioner Martha Stark told the N.Y. Post: "the city grants
property tax exemptions when countries use property for government purposes.
However, when property is used for commercial purposes and used to provide
housing for non-senior staff, sovereign nations must pay their fair share of
Assistant Corporation Counsel Robert Paparella told the N.Y. Post that the
city "tried to work out an amicable resolution" with Turkey over the past
two years, but to no avail.
Dareh Gregorian, the son of Vartan Gregorian, made the following very
appropriate observation in an article he wrote for the N.Y. Post on April
10: "They wanted billions of dollars to allow U.S. troops on their land, but
the Turkish government apparently has no problem using U.S. land for free."
Omer Onhon, Turkey's consul general, was quoted in the Financial Times as
saying that his country had acknowledged it owed some back taxes but the
amount was considerably less than the $70 million that New York is seeking.
Onhon said Turkey was close to reaching an agreement with New York and was
surprised to hear about the lawsuit. "We came to agreement with the city on
a figure and we thought it was only a matter of timing of the payment," he
David Saltzman, the attorney for the government of Turkey, told the N.Y.
Daily News, the city and his client were "finalizing a settlement" when the
suit was announced.
Judson Vickers, the city's lawyer, told the N.Y. Daily News that the two
sides reached agreement last year, but Turkey never paid up. "We stopped
waiting and brought the suit," he said.
It appears that both Washington and New York are getting fed up with
Turkey's antics. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) knows how to deal with deadbeat
countries like Turkey. He proposed to cut foreign aid to nations that owe
property tax to New York City.
Sen. Schumer wrote to Secretary State Colin Powell to inform him that he
intends to add provisions to future foreign aid bills to collect 110% of the
unpaid New York City property taxes from the debtor nations.
The senior senator from New York, in a press release issued on April 10,
2003, said: "For far too long, diplomats have broken the law of this city
and gotten away with it. ...We simply can no longer allow these countries to
thumb their noses at us and refuse to pay the taxes they owe us for the many
buildings they own in New York. ...We should take the money they owe off any
aid we send them - foreign, military or any type of trade assistance."
If Congress were to approve Sen. Schumer's proposed bill, more than $70
million would be deducted from the $1 billion in direct aid Pres. Bush so
generously and undeservedly offered to T
urkey last week.
Regrettably, even if the Turks were to pay the property taxes they owe the
City of New York, the government of Turkey would not be shelling out a
single dollar from its coffers. The payment would come out of the one
billion dollars of U.S. taxpayers' hard-earned money that the Bush
administration just gave to Turkey. Furthermore, U.S. taxpayers would be
paying indirectly (through foreign aid) for the attorneys the Turks have
hired to fight the New York City lawsuit, as well as for the high-powered
public relations firms (costing over $2 million a year) that lobby on behalf
of Turkey in Washington!