Mr. Hay to Mr. Hunter.

No. 299.]

Sir: I inclose herewith copy of a dispatch from the consul-general at Guatemala City, together with its inclosures, relating to the claim of Siegfried Koenigsberger for certain moneys confiscated by the Guatemalan customs authorities, and for the annoyance and losses attendant upon the action complained of. As nearly as the Department can gather the facts in the case it appears:

That said Koenigsberger and his brother arrived at San José de Guatemala from Guatemala City on December 7, 1899, holding checks for two valises which arrived with them as baggage; that said valises were alleged to contain $2,300 in silver; that Koenigsberger was called to the office of the commandante of the port at about 9 o’clock in the evening, and upon identifying the valises was commanded to open them, which he refused to do, claiming that it was after business hours for the custom-house, and further that as he still held the checks the valises were in the hands of the railroad company; that on the following morning he was called again to the office of the commandante and ordered to open the valises, and upon his refusal he and his brother were imprisoned for about two hours, when their release was secured by the United States consul; that they were again summoned by the commandante, and in the presence of the consul opened the valises, when, on counting the money, they discovered a shortage of $508; which amount had been removed “without their knowledge or consent;” that the remainder, $1,792, was taken by the commandante and deposited in the mint, subject to the order of the minister of finance; that on the following day, while they were returning to Guatemala City, they were arrested by the chief of police of Escuintla and there detained for twenty-four hours, then ordered back to San José, still under arrest; but that on the way they received a telegram signed by the president of the Republic which secured their release.

It further appears that a presidential decree had been issued, prohibiting the exportation of silver, but that said decree “has been practically a dead letter, inasmuch as thousands of dollars weekly has been exported by Government permission.”

From the facts as above related it would appear that for the money ($508) abstracted while in possession of and in course of transportation by the railroad company the remedy, if any, is against said company in the courts. With regard to the remainder of the money, $1,792, [Page 253] which it is inferred was confiscated in virtue of a law prohibiting the exportation of silver from the country, it is the opinion of the Department that it was Koenigsberger’s duty, when requested to do so, to submit the valises to the customs authorities for the purpose of examining them to ascertain whether they contained silver intended to be smuggled out of the country. The fact that the Messrs. Koenigsberger had applied for permission to embark and were about to leave the country and that the valises stood at the wharf would appear to justify the inference of the officials that they were about to take the valises, with their contents, from the country in violation of law.

The consul-general reports that you are of opinion that the money was unlawfully seized and should be returned to its owners. If you find that the seizure and detention of the money are unlawful, you will bring the matter to the attention of the Guatemalan Government and request the prompt return of the money.

It is also stated in the consul-general’s report that the law against the exportation of silver does not authorize imprisonment, but only confiscation, as a penalty for smuggling. If this statement is accurate you may report to the Department whether the Messrs. Koenigsberger have an adequate remedy in damages before the local tribunals for such unlawful arrest

I am, etc.

John Hay.

Mr. McNally to Mr. Hill.

No. 83.]

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge receipt of the Department’s No. 42a of July 30, 1900, inclosing copy of a memorial of Siegfried Koenigsberger preferring a claim against the Government of Guatemala for $2,300 pesos silver alleged to have been confiscated by the Guatemalan Government, and $5,000 United States gold for damages said to have been sustained for loss of the use of the money and annoyance and inconvenience suffered from false imprisonment, and instructing me to make an investigation and report.

Knowledge of this case first came to me through Minister Hunter, who handed me the metal checks for valises left in his care by Siegfried Koenigsberger, saying at the same time that this money must be returned to the Koenigsbergers as the seizure was unlawful. This was the day before the minister left this capital for the United States on leave. I was under the impression that Minister Hunter had made some representation to the Guatemalan Government, and therefore did not consult the Government during my short season as chargé d’affaires.

I beg to inclose letters from our former consular agent at San José de Guatemala as well as from former employees of the railroad and Agencia Maritima, etc., at San José.

A presidential decree was promulgated prohibiting the exportation of silver, which decree has been practically a dead letter, inasmuch as [Page 254] thousands of dollars weekly has been exported by Government permission. I am not aware of any penalty attached to the decree other than the confiscation of the silver. The arrest of the Koenigsbergers was fully unwarranted and in no sense according to the provision of the decree in question. I am not informed as to the reasons the authorities advance for their arrest. That they were arrested and confined in jail in Escuintla and there detained for twenty-four hours can not be disputed. The two valises in question were checked in Guatemala in a manner indicating that they were to be taken on board the steamer, as is usual with all baggage checked to the pier, and yet it does seem singular that the Koenigsbergers, having full knowledge of the decree against the exportation of silver, and knowing full well the vigilance of the customs authorities in this regard, would attempt to carry out in two valises $2,300 in silver, which in no event could pass the officials, the weight readily indicating the contents.

I have, etc.,

James C. McNally,
[Subinclosure 1.]

Mr. Vair to Mr. McNally.

No. 22.]

Sir: In reply to your No. 20, I will say the only reference I find to the Koenigsberger case in this office is the following unnumbered letter of January 24, 1900:

United States Consul-General, Guatemala:

“In reply to your favor of the 19th of January regarding the seizure of valises belonging to Koenigsberger, the facts, as far as I have been able to obtain them, are as follows: The valises were checked from Guatemala to the port, and on the arrival of the baggage on the outer end of the pier the valises with the checks still attached were taken by the comandante. My first information of the affair was on the following morning, when I received a request from Koenigsberger to call on him at the comandancia, where he was detained. I secured his release on my promise to produce him when wanted.

“About noon of the same day I was requested by the comandante to be present at the opening of the valises. The owners were also there, and in order to prevent the locks from being broken opened them under protest.

Upton Lorentz,
Consular Agent.

As the people in the railroad and on the pier have been changed, I can get no further information there. The factor of the company says that the Koenigsbergers were not on the pier to embark when the baggage was seized. They had applied for their permission to embark, but had not actually received it. I believe the Government claim that as evidence that they were about to embark.

I am, etc.,

Roger R. Vair, Consular Agent.
[Subinclosure 2.]

Mr. Swan to Mr. McNally

Sir: In December, 1899, I was agent for the Guatemala Central Railroad Company, being in charge of the station at San José. On the 8th of December a gentleman named Koenigsberger presented two baggage checks, claiming his baggage, which was checked at Guatemala the day before. The numbers on the checks indicated that the baggage had been checked direct to the end of the pier, and I told Mr. Koenigsberger that he would find his baggage on the pier. He then left, but returned in [Page 255] about an hour saying that his baggage was not on the pier; that he had been informed that it had been seized by the comandante, and that as it was in the care of the railroad company and he held their checks, he wanted me to get his baggage. I told him that while it was true that the railroad company had checked his baggage, it had not been checked to San José station, but to the end of the pier, and had been delivered to the Agenda Maritima direct by the train baggagemaster without even passing through my hands, and that I could do nothing at all; he would have to present his checks to that company, who had received the baggage from the railroad company. He did this, but could not recover his baggage, as it had been seized by officials of the Government

F. S. Swan.
[Subinclosure 3.]

Mr. Myer to Mr. McNally.

Sir: I saw and talked with the Koenigsberger brothers on the train from San José de Guatemala to Escuintla on or about the 7th day of December, 1899. They related to me the circumstances of their arrest, and said they intended putting the matter in the hands of the American minister immediately upon their arrival in Guatemala.

I left the train at Escuintla, and before leaving the station I saw them taken off the train by policemen and conducted to jail. I afterwards saw them in jail at Escuintla, and at their earnest request endeavored to help them out of their predicament, but failed to do them any good. They were in jail from about 11.30 o’clock a. m., December 9 or 10, until 11.30 o’clock the next day. I saw them at the train the next day under police guard. They told me they were to be taken back to San José de Guatemala, but before the train left the station at Escuintla, they were taken off and conducted away by policemen.

I did not know them prior to their trouble and have never talked to them since.

J. B. Myer.
[Subinclosure 4.]

Mr. Bellows to Mr. McNally.

Dear Sir: In compliance with your request that I write you what I know of the taking of silver from the Koenigsberger brothers on the night of December 7, 1899, I give the following as my part in the affair: On the night in question I was on the pier assisting in the embarking of passengers and baggage for the steamer which was to sail that night, when the chief of the police at San José came to me with an aide and demanded the delivery of two valises, bearing railroad strap-checks, and which I happened to know belonged to the Messrs. Koenigsberger. I refused the delivery, saying that the agencia company was responsible for baggage bearing checks, and that we could only deliver on presentation of corresponding checks, but added that if an order to deliver from the comandante of the port relieving us from all responsibility was presented to the factor of the Agencia Maritima Nacional Limitada, he would in all probability order the packages to be delivered to the comandante.

The police representative left to secure the order, and I reported the matter to the factor. Later I was told by the factor that the comandante had arranged the matter, and that the baggage had been delivered to him.

Very truly, yours,

Stuart Bellows,
Former employee of the Agencia Maritima Nacional Limitada.
[Subinclosure 5.]

Mr. Lorentz to Mr. McNally.

Sir: Referring to your request directed to me personally yesterday for a statement of my recollections of the facts in the case relating to the silver coin taken from the Koenigsberger brothers at the port of San José de Guatemala in December, 1899, by the authorities of the Guatemalan Government, I beg to submit below my recollections of the case.

[Page 256]

The morning following the seizure of the silver coin I was sent for by the Koenigsberger brothers, who were detained as prisoners at the comandancia, asking me to come and see them and endeavor to secure their release, which” I succeeded in doing by application to the comandante of the port, Don Salvador R. Cabrera.

After the release of the elder Mr. Koenigsberger, who exhibited papers certifying that he was an American citizen, he personally made the statement to me that two valises had been forcibly seized by the comandante of the port on the evening previous, and that said valises were his property; that they contained silver coin amounting to something over $2,000 in silver coinage of the republics of Peru, Chili, and Guatemala. He further stated that these valises containing said coin were checked by the Guatemala Central Railway Company, said checks being in their possession and duplicates on valises. That the seizure was made directly from that company, he not having surrendered the duplicate checks, and furthermore that he had not endeavored or at any time attempted to export said coin, and requested that the valises should be delivered to himself. Notwithstanding said personal request, the comandante of the port took the two valises into his possession and retained the same until the following morning, and also, he stated, the comandante still retained the same.

Some time after the release of Koenigsberger I received a written request from the comandante to call at his office at noon relative to the case. This I did, Mr. Koenigsberger and his brother and some eight or ten persons more being present, most of whom were employees of the Government of the port of San José, such as secretaries and clerks. The comandante then had brought the two valises to the office and told Mr. Koenigsberger to open them, which Mr. Koenigsberger refused to do. The comandante then ordered them broken open; whereupon Mr. Koenigsberger, protesting, proceeded to open them with his keys.

My remembrance now is that the Government officials proceeded to take all the articles out of the two valises, collecting all the coined silver, which amounted to something over $1,800, which was placed upon the comandante’s desk and there counted. After this he remained in possession of the silver, returning the valises and other articles taken from them to Mr. Koenigsberger. This coin was retained by the comandante against the protest of both Mr. Koenigsberger and myself, and presumably on the grounds that it had been the intention of Mr. Koenigsberger to export the silver, though this last was denied by Mr. Koenigsberger.

The next day I had occasion to go to Guatemala City. On the same train were Siegfried Koenigsberger and his brother. When the train arrived at Escuintla the authorities entered the train and arrested both, taking them to the jail at Escuintla. On arriving in the city I immediately notified the United States minister, W. Godfrey Hunter.

I am, etc.,

Upton Lorentz,
Late United States Consular Agent at San José de Guatemala.
  1. Not printed.