Mr. Hay to Mr. Hunter.
Washington , November 27, 1900 .
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.
- Not printed.↩