12 Jul Diplomatic Deadbeats: New York City Collects Back Taxes on UN Missions
Sometimes, international law wanders far afield from questions of international criminal justice and basic human rights. Sometimes, it is just about collecting some money. Case in point: the City of New York has apparently won a judgment in federal court clearing the way for it to collect a total of $25 million in back taxes from the governments of India and Mongolia. The taxes are owed on two properties in New York City used to house staff at the governments’ U.N. missions.
The decision for the court here is simply whether the two governments have sovereign immunity under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. The court ruled that an exception to sovereign immunity applied where “rights . . . in immovable property in the United States are in issue.” (28 U.S.C. §1605(a)(4)).
Interestingly, the two governments did not argue that they have immunity from taxes under either the Vienna Convention for Diplomatic Relations or the U.N. Headquarters Agreement. I’m not familiar enough with those treaties to know if some further protections might exist, but I believe those protections extend only to the ambassador-level (and neither of the properties house ambassadors to the UN).
There probably isn’t anything profoundly important going on here. Just a run-of-the-mill dispute that international law, in this case in the form of a federal statute, provides a sensible rule of decision.