Cablegate: Range of Issues Raised at Un Host Country


DE RUCNDT #0380/01 1192338
P 282338Z APR 08





E.O. 12958: N/A

1. SUMMARY: At the April 22 Host Country Committee meeting,
member states discussed chronic visa delays that negatively
affect their representation at official UN meetings, NYC
taxing UN Mission staff residences, unauthorized blocking of
Ecuadorian Mission diplomats' bank accounts, problems of UN
Mission chauffeurs in obtaining NY State drivers licenses,
and delays in amending NY State gasoline tax exemption law
affecting diplomats. USUN and OFM/NY were able to alleviate
airport parking fears of diplomats, following discussions
with the Port Authority of NY and NJ; however, pressing
issues of Visa issuance and NYC attempts to tax UN mission
staff residences will require continued Department
involvement, as NYC presses missions to pay taxes and warns
affected missions they will incur 18% interest on unpaid
taxes. Committee Chair and Cypriot PermRep Andreas
Mavroyiannis is sufficiently concerned wit the UN Community's
growing anger over visa delays that he is seeking
consultations with CA and IO principals to discuss the
problem. END SUMMARY.


2. Cuban Deputy PermRep Nunez Modoche expressed her "deepest
concern" re "unjustified delays" that prevented Cuban
delegates from attending official UN meetings recently.
Among them was Jose Rufino Menendez Hernandez, who was only
issued a visa six days after he was scheduled to attend the
meeting of government experts to review the draft
international instrument on Conventional Weapons February 11
- 15 at UNHQ. The Cuban DPR urged US authorities to fulfill
their obligations to provide visas without delay according to
Article IV, Section 11 of the UNHQ agreement, and UNGA
Resolution 62/72 (UN HC Committee Report).

3. Syria also reported that two members of its three-person
delegation had not received visas in time to attend a UN
Workshop on Government Equipment February 4 - 12 and that
this showed a failure of the US to comply with the UN
Headquarters Agreement.

4. USUN/HC MinCouns told the Committee that the Host Country
takes the issue of visa delays very seriously and that over
the last 6 months, USUN had been reviewing the matter closely
and concluded that the administrative processing of a growing
number of visa applications was not being finalized as
quickly as the US Mission would like. He reported that USUN
had been addressing the matter more formally and had sent
detailed telegrams to Washington. USUN/HC had taken
advantage of a visit to New York of a DOS Visa Office
Director to schedule a meeting with UN officials to discuss
the UN community's concern re visa delays. Those meetings had
taken place on April 21 and USDel said that he believed the
strong concerns expressed in the face-to-face meeting would
be relayed to Washington. Re Cuba, USUN was also requesting
the US Interests Section in Havana inform USUN when it
received official visa applications so that USUN could track
applications, improve coordination, and ensure that visas are
issued as promptly as possible. Re the Syrian intervention,
USDel responded that it was not aware of the situation
described. USDEL reminded the member states present that it
continues to encourage delegations experiencing delays to
contact the USUN Host Country office for assistance, since it
was often able to facilitate resolution. (COMMENT: On the
margins of the meeting, Chair of the Committee, Cypriot
PermRep Andreas Mavroyiannis, asked USUN to facilitate a
meeting for him in Washington with CA and IO principals to
discuss growing UN community anger over visa delays. END



5. The Indian Observer raised the issue of NYC Property
taxes. He stated that the Committee was probably aware of
the lawsuits filed by the City of New York and that on
February 8, a US District Court held that international law
supported NYC's view that the real property tax exemption was
limited only to the residence of the head of mission and
mission offices. India has filed a notice of appeal. He
said his Mission had approached the HC Committee Chairman on
March 4 to convene an urgent meeting of the Committee on the
issue. However, on March 14, the Indian Mission withdrew the

request and intended to hold bilateral discussions on the
matter in New Delhi. The Indian Observer urged the Host
Country to help resolve the issue and bring the matter in
line with international practice. He stated that India
reserved the option to ask that the Committee take up this
issue at a later date, and on an urgent basis.


6. Mongolian PermRep Ochir also took the floor and gave a
detailed but cogent summary of the legal actions since the
City of New York's initial suit in Spring 2003. PR Ochir
focused on the implications for the wider UN community and
quoted from the dissenting opinion of Supreme Court Justices
Stevens and Breyer that its decision meant "a whole host of
routine civil controversies, from sidewalk slip-and-falls to
landlord-tenant disputes could be converted into property
liens under local law, and then used - as the tax lien was
in this case - to pierce foreign sovereign's traditional and
sovereign immunity." She reported that in NYC, liens against
real property were permitted for pest control, emergency
repairs, among other justifications. She pointed out that
the burden of answering such complaints would severely affect
the ability of foreign sovereigns to function. Such a burden
would particularly affect small missions such as Mongolia's,
which had limited resources to engage in endless litigation.

7. Ochir stated that her Mission had also appealed the
monetary judgment ruling on March 17 in favor of the City of
New York and establishing the validity of the tax lien. She
appealed against the logic of this ruling stating that in NY,
property owned by non-profits and hospitals used to house its
staff were not taxed and asked why it would be that Permanent
Missions were treated differently when the decision to house
its diplomatic staff was for mission purposes only and that
no contracts were signed. She reasoned that the provision of
housing facilitates the performance of the mission since many
duties were performed after business hours and that housing
of diplomats was widely practiced. She stated that
assessment of taxes was not supported by international
practice and that it goes against the concept of reciprocity.
She pointed out that the US exempts entire multi-apartment
buildings used exclusively for staff housing in the
Washington DC area and that the US grants to UN member states
and their staff the same P&I as it accords diplomatic envoys
accredited to it.

8. PR Ochir concluded that she understood that the City of
New York had already begun to pursue tax claims against
dozens of other UN Missions and she called upon the Host
Country to uphold the relevant international norms and assist
in resolving the disputes with NYC of unduly levied real
estate taxes on member states. (Full text of her statement
will be emailed to the Department).


9. The Libyan Representative supported India and Mongolia in
appealing to the Host Country for assistance with tax matters
that did not conform to international norms. He also
described problems his mission is still facing as a result of
the days of the US embargo related to bank account access,
maintenance of its building and staff housing. Many floors
of Libya House were held vacant during this period and
therefore were not used by the Mission.

New York City Response

10. NYC Mayor's Office Commissioner for the for the UN,
Consular Corps and Protocol (NYCC), Marjorie Bloomberg Tiven,
asked to address the Committee on Property Taxes (the text of
her statement is also being emailed to Department). She
assured the Committee that the City always has a policy of
respecting international law, and emphasized that the City's
recent efforts do not change the tax-exempt status of mission
offices, PermRep residences, or existing bilateral
agreements. She mentioned that the City had sometimes asked
missions how their property is being used and has received
cooperation from many missions. She outlined the City's
legal efforts and successes in establishing that mission
staff housing is taxable and noted the money judgments
entered. She appealed to missions to resolve these tax
issues with the City and warned that missions should be aware
that interest runs at 18 percent per year as long as taxes
are not paid.

11. USDel took the floor to state that the issue of property
taxation was an important and complicated one. USDel
indicated that his office had taken note of the discussion
and would report back to capital. He said that he was aware
that bilateral discussions had taken place in Washington with
several affected countries and that he had no instructions to
comment further at this time.


12. The Ecuador PermRep made a strong statement protesting
"arbitrary procedures" applied to the personal bank accounts
of three mission diplomats by JP Morgan Chase. The accounts
had either been restricted or blocked with no explanation
from the bank or the Department of State. She noted, in
particular, the account of the Mission's former DPR that was
blocked on March 3, reportedly on orders from the US
Department of Homeland Security. She quoted from information
she said was communicated by US authorities that they had the
authority to block the accounts since American law superseded
international law, including the VCDR. She added that the US
attorney's office in Puerto Rico had, in addition, ordered a
debit from the DPR's account to cover costs of a money
laundering investigation, the apparent cause of the account
freeze. She stated that on March 17, following intervention
by DOS, the bank lifted the block but that authorities had
insisted the DPR sign a form that would violate his P&I in
order to be refunded the money that was removed. She said
that she had not received a response to three notes sent to
DOS and that the money had still not been returned. She
questioned whether three instances could all have been
mistakes and strongly protested these violations of
diplomatic privilege that had caused economic harm and
injury. She requested an explanation, reconfirmation that
the host country observes diplomatic P&I under the VCDR, and
asked that the matter be investigated.

13. USDel stated that he was informed of the block on the
DPR's account a week before the diplomat left the US. USUN
had been aware of an account problem a few years before but
was not sure if this previous instance was also what the
Ecuador Rep referred to regarding other accounts. He said
his deputy had been in close contact with the Ecuador Mission
over the time it took to unblock the DPR's account. USDel
said that he expected the money to be returned to the account
this week and he explained that the State Department of
course took the position that authorities in Puerto Rico did
not have the authority to block inviolable accounts.
(COMMENT: Ecuador MUN confirmed to USUN later that it became
aware funds had been received on April 22, the day of the
Committee meeting. DOS succeeded in getting the request to
sign the objectionable portion of the form waived). The
Ecuador delegate thanked the USDel for his office's
assistance and admitted that the mission had not reported the
first two of the three incidents since it believed them to be
mistakes and they had been resolved quickly. However, after
the third incident, the mission became extremely concerned.
She requested a written response to the issue.


14. Poland, supported by the Russian Federation, complained
that the decision by OFM/NY to no longer issue DOS drivers'
licenses to UN Mission chauffeurs was problematic. He
reported that his chauffeur was told he needed a Social
Security Number to obtain a NY State license, something not
available to him. He also complained that the required
testing could take as long as 2 months to complete, affecting
his mission's ability to function. USDel reported that SSNs
were NOT required for drivers' licenses though applicants did
need to provide adequate identification worth a certain
number of points for the application process. He suggested
further contact with OFM/NY on the issue.

15. Russian Federation, China and Trinidad/Tobago all
complained about parking fees at area airports, particularly
JFK, and called on the host country to report on progress in
re-establishing free parking for missions conducting official
business, a practice that had been in place for many years.
China and Russia also asked for a status report on NYS
legislative efforts to amend the law prohibiting gasoline
vendors to rebate taxes on gas bought using gasoline credit

16. USDel informed the committee that since the last
meeting, USUN and OFM/NY met with the Port Authority of New
York and New Jersey in late February and had written to the
PA requesting it revise its policy to reflect the
long-standing practice allowing diplomatic vehicles to park
for free while conducting official business. The PA has
agreed, and while the official written policy change allowing
diplomatic and consular vehicles to use airport parking areas
without charge will likely take some time to complete, the PA
stated that free parking for diplomatic vehicles will be
re-instated in practice during the week of April 21. The
agreed policy is as follows: All vehicles with A, C and D
series DOS plates will be allowed free parking for 24 hours
at area airports (JFK, LGA, Newark and Stewart). Vehicles
remaining in the parking lots/garages for more than 24 hours
will be charged fees for the entire period. USDel requested
that missions contact the USUN if there are further problems.
He indicated a circular diplomatic note could be circulated
if and when the PA provides written confirmation of its
policy change.

17. Re NY State gasoline tax laws, OFM/NY had informed USUN
that the NY State legislator in charge of the issue had
assured the USG that the amended legislation should be
completed by Albany's recess in June. USUN/HC had earlier
distributed a circular note explaining how gasoline taxes
could be reimbursed and, USDel agreed to re-circulate this
diplomatic note as several delegations indicated that it had
not been received.

18. The Cuban Rep also raised security at the Cuban Mission
and asked for a written explanation of new security
procedures discussed in a meeting held at the Cuban Mission
with NYPD and DS officials. USDel responded with details of
the substantial NYPD coverage of the Mission. The Cuban
Mission continued to request written explanation of the new
procedures and sought a review of their effectiveness and
further coordination on the daily visits by NYPD since the
mission security officer was not available for unscheduled

19. The meeting concluded and the Chair indicated the next
Committee meeting would be scheduled for July.

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