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Englewood prepares for arrival of Libyan ambassador

 
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Libya owns this East Palisade Avenue mansion in Englewood, which may soon house that country’s United Nations ambassador.

The City of Englewood is again preparing for a Libyan presence as Libya’s U.N. ambassador, Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgham, is reportedly making plans to move, at least temporarily, to a mansion it has owned since the 1980s.

The mansion remained empty until renovations began this summer ahead of a possible visit from Libyan leader Col. Muammar Kaddafi during the U.N.’s opening session.

A 1983 agreement between the United States and Libya limits use of the Englewood property to the Libyan ambassador and his family, and Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9) said the Libyan and American governments acknowledged that agreement when Kaddafi decided not to stay in New Jersey. The amount of time the ambassador may spend at the property is unclear under the agreement, according to Rothman, who was mayor of Englewood at the time.

“The George W. Bush administration re-established diplomatic relations with the Libyan government and removed Libya from the list of state sponsors of terrorism,” Rothman said. “And up until this moment the Englewood police chief has advised me he sees no problem in allowing the ambassador and his wife and children to occupy the residence. And so, I hope everyone will be appropriately good neighbors.”

The police chief, Arthur O’ Keefe, said his department has been in touch with the State Department and is equipped to handle the situation.

“We are taking an active part in securing the safety of the ambassador and his family,” he said.

Security has been an issue for the property’s neighbors. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who lives next door, held a protest at his home in August when rumors surfaced of Kaddafi’s visit. In addition, The Moriah School is located near the mansion.

“There should be no impact on [the neighbors],” O’Keefe said. “When we’re providing security for the ambassador and his family, we’re aware of the neighbors and the factors involved in the area.”

The department has increased its presence in the area, he said, but is in discussions with the State Department about its covering additional security costs, but that, as well as whether security may be reassigned to a federal agency, remains in preliminary stages, O’Keefe said.

“My intention is there is no cost or tax burden to the people of Englewood,” he added.

In a statement sent to The Jewish Standard last week, Boteach, a columnist for this paper, expressed outrage at reports that the Libyan ambassador planned to take up residence next door.

“That Kaddafi, an international sponsor of terror, will have his personal representative living next door to me with all the very serious security implications for me and my family, as well as all other residents of Englewood, is shocking and troubling in the extreme,” Boteach said in the statement. “I am dumbfounded that the State Department and our city is allowing this and if we the residents of Englewood, N.J., along with our esteemed Mayor Michael Wildes, are forced to once again come out publicly and oppose this outrage, we pledge do so by every legal means necessary.”

Boteach was on a humanitarian mission in Africa, but spoke briefly with the Standard Tuesday morning.

“These are not the kind of people who should be in a residential community,” he said of the Libyan security detail that would be required for the ambassador.

Boteach filed a lawsuit against Libya in August in protest of what he said was damage to his property caused by the renovations next door. Eric Herschmann, Boteach’s lawyer, said Tuesday that the case has moved to federal court but the Libyan government has not yet answered the complaint. As a result, he plans to file for a default judgment “in the near future.”

Wildes echoed Boteach’s anger.

“It’s upsetting that a financier of terrorism would have his ambassador sleep in the city limits and offensive that they wouldn’t pay a nickel in taxes for the last 20 years and insulting to the those who lost their loved ones,” Wildes told the Standard.

In addition to his role as mayor, Wildes works as an immigration attorney in New York City. In that capacity he has had dealings with the State Department before and he believes the department should block the ambassador from the city. Englewood, he said, could become “ground zero” for anti-Libyan activity, which would place a burden on the city’s law enforcement. City officials opened a criminal mischief investigation in October after a small fire at the mansion on Sept. 23.

“It’s unpatriotic for the State Department to put the interest of foreign nationals before our own,” Wildes added.

 
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