A story in Friday's Washington Post incorrectly discribed the position of the South Korean government with regard to payment of Arlington taxes. The government of South Korea paid taxes last year on real estate it owns in Arlington, but it has petitioned the State Department for an exemption on the building.
Perhaps the Cold War is over, but Arlington County is gearing up to battle East Germany in court in hope of collecting more than $25,000 in delinquent real estate taxes it says the Germans owe.
The county filed suit last week in circuit court to force the German Democratic Republic to pay the property taxes on Windsor Park Tower, an eight-story apartment building the Germans bought two years ago to house their citizens who are working in the German chancery here and their families.
The building, located at 1515 S. Arlington Ridge Rd., was assessed at $1.612 million last year and Arlington claims the Germans owe $24,029.23 in taxes plus a delinquency penalty of $2,402.92.
Claus Montag, the East German counselor said Windsor Park Tower is being used to house people involved with the work of the embassy in Washington and is therefore entitled to a normal embassy tax exemption granted under a multinational treaty.
"It is only existing for the purposes of the work of the embassy" he said.
However, Margorie Keating, chief of the embassies section of the State Department's protocol division, said that normally "we don't consider that the residence of other than the embassador would qualify for an exemption."
According to a legal brief filed by the county, the Virginia Constitution does not allow foreign governments to receive immunity from taxation unless it is granted by treaty between the United States and the foreign government or by a special federal law.
Assistant Arlington County attorney David Lesso said the county can find no evidence of a treaty that would grant the East Germans a tax exemption.
"We asked the (East German) government to forward with any treaties, but so far they haven't showed us any." he said.
John MacConnell, an assistant Virginia attorney general said that under state law only the U.S. goverment and political subdivisions of Virginia are exempt from paying local real estate taxes. He said that property belonging to a foreign government would probably be treated similarly to that of another state, which currently is taxed.
Embassies, the official residence of the head of a diplomatic mission and the office space owned by a foreign government to be used by the diplomatic staff, are exempt from paying taxes in the United States and most other countries, according to Horace Shamwell, a legal adviser in the State Department. Those provisions were agreed to at the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1972, Shamwell said.
Othere jurisdictions in the Washington area reported they have not had tax problems similar to Arlington. One of the primary reasons is that few countries purchase land or buildings for their staffs, according to Laurence Woodwell, a spokesman for The D.C.'s Department of Finance and Revenue. The few exception, he said, usually are covered by a specific treaty exempting taxes.
But Lasso said Arilington is worried that the problem could spread. He said South Korea recently has purchased land in Arlington and has failed so far to pay its property tax, he said.