Dana Chivvis Contributor
(Jan. 12) -- New York City is suing the Nigerian government for millions in unpaid real estate taxes, the mayor's office announced today. The suit, filed in federal court today, accuses the Nigerian government of not paying taxes on a building it owns on Manhattan's East Side. The city says the taxes go back at least until 2002 and possibly as far back as 1993. The lawsuit claims the government owes between $4.1 million and $16 million.
"Nigeria was given many opportunities to settle this debt to the city, but it declined to do so," Protocol Commissioner Marjorie B. Tiven said in a statement. "The city seeks to be a good neighbor to foreign governments that own property in the city, but we also expect these governments to do their part and pay their taxes."
New York City gives foreign governments a tax break on their United Nations mission and consulate, and on housing for the permanent representative and the consul general. The building in question, called Nigeria House, includes offices for the Nigerian Consulate and Nigerian Mission to the U.N.
But, the lawsuit claims, the government has also used the building for taxable commercial purposes, including office space for Nigeria Airways, other businesses, and space rented out to the U.N. The city also claims the building's top floor is used as a residence for someone other than the permanent representative to the U.N. mission or the head of the consulate.
"The courts have ruled, and the State Department agrees, that foreign governments do not qualify for a tax exemption on property used for commercial purposes," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement. "For nondiplomatic uses, we expect foreign governments to pay their fair share of property taxes, just like all New Yorkers do."
The Nigerian government has been under a lot of heat lately. The country's ailing president, Umaru Yar'Adua, went to Saudi Arabia on Nov. 23 to undergo medical treatment. After weeks of silence, several Nigerians began to suspect the president had died.
Those rumors were quashed today when the BBC broadcast a phone interview with the president from his hospital bed. Still, thousands of protesters marched in the streets of the capital city of Abuja today, accusing the president of corruption.
Last week, the country was placed on the United States' newly revamped terrorism watch list, stemming from Nigerian national Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's failed Christmas Day attack on a Northwest Airlines flight.