UPDATED: February 10, 2012, at 12:43 a.m.
Harvard University brought a lawsuit this week asking a federal judge to direct the U.S. Marshals Service to evict the Embassy of the Republic of Cameroon from Harvard-owned property that the embassy currently occupies in Washington, D.C.
According to a court document, the lease held by Cameroon’s permanent ministry to the U.S. expired on Jan. 31, but the embassy has not yet vacated the office building.
“This is a straightforward landlord-and-tenant dispute,” lawyers representing Harvard wrote in a court filing. “The Embassy continues to occupy the premises and has not provided any indication of when it will vacate.”
When its permanent headquarters in Washington, D.C., began undergoing renovations in April 2010, the Cameroon embassy leased the building in question from its previous owner. Harvard then purchased the building for $7 million in 2011.
When Harvard took ownership of the building, Cameroon Ambassador Joseph B. C. Foe-Atangana signed an agreement stating that the terms of the previous lease still applied, including a Jan. 31, 2012, expiration date, according to Harvard’s court filing.
Although the Embassy of Cameroon would normally have immunity against lawsuits such as Harvard’s, its lease on the building contained a provision in which it waived numerous protections ordinarily granted by the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, the court document said.
According to the filing, Harvard learned in the fall of 2011 that the renovations at the embassy’s permanent headquarters had fallen behind schedule. In December, Harvard’s lawyers wrote, the University “notified the embassy that it would be willing to consider a limited three-month extension of the Lease Term.”
But when Harvard’s trustees “did not receive any substantive communication” from the embassy, they withdrew the offer of an extension on the lease on Jan. 30.
The Cameroon embassy did not respond to repeated requests for comment on Thursday.
“We would like to be flexible,” University spokesperson Kevin Galvin said. “We remain open to working out an extension, but without any response from the embassy, we felt that we had to move forward.”
Harvard purchased the building, located at 1700 Wisconsin Ave., in order to expand the Dumbarton Oaks research library.
Dumbarton Oaks director Jan M. Ziolkowski told The Crimson in September that the library planned to significantly remodel the building to house its research fellows.
—Staff writer Michael C. George can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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