WASHINGTON – Libya wants to reopen an embassy in the United States, but it can't get the District of Columbia to turn on the water.
The Libyan government sued the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority last week in federal court, demanding that the property's water and sewer service be turned on. The lawsuit also asks for $1 million in damages.
At the heart of the dispute are more than $27,000 in outstanding water and sewer bills for the property on Wyoming Avenue. Libya says it hasn't occupied the building since 1981, when the U.S. government cut diplomatic ties with the country and shut the embassy.
After Libya's departure, the United Arab Emirates took control of the property. And, according to the suit, "squatters" stayed there for several years without permission from Libya or UAE.
The UAE evicted the squatters in 2003 and ordered water and sewer service to be shut off, the suit says.
Even so, the D.C. utility won't provide water or sewer service until someone pays the bills. The city's records show water and sewer accounts at the property in the name of the "United Kingdom of Libya," and the authority has filed a lien demanding payment, The Washington Times reported Tuesday.
The Libyan government, however, says it shouldn't have to pay because it didn't authorize the service.
The city agency declined to comment on the suit. But the agency treats foreign embassies the same way it does other customers, said Michele Quander-Collins, a spokeswoman for the water authority.
"Basically, if they're in arrears, we pursue the customer no matter who they are," she said.
The city utility has filed property liens against more than a dozen foreign countries in recent years, records show. The debts ranged from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands — and some will be difficult to collect.
The Republic of Yugoslavia disintegrated in the 1990s but still owes more than $14,000 to the city, according to a lien filed last year. And the former Zaire — now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo — has had more than $20,000 in outstanding bills, according to another lien.