661.11241/15: Telegram

The Chargé in the Soviet Union (Henderson) to the Secretary of State

310. Referring to Department’s instruction No. 840, October 8, 1936.2

The Foreign Office has recently given this Embassy and other Missions to understand that the practice with respect to levying export duties on the effects of departing foreign diplomats will henceforth be as follows:
All effects except those accompanying as baggage are to be inspected by the customs authorities.
Inspection will be made at the residences of Chiefs of Mission and Counselors but effects of all other members of diplomatic missions must be inspected at the customs house and packed there under the supervision of the customs authorities and sealed by them.
All effects except those which the owners are able to convince [Page 452]the customs authorities were imported by them will be subject to export duty.
Export duties will be waived in the case of Chiefs of Missions although in lieu of such duties they will be required to pay an “appraisal fee” amounting to 3% of the determined export value of all dutiable effects.
This practice differs from the former practice in that hitherto effects of all persons on the Diplomatic Corps [list?] have been inspected, packed and sealed in their residences and Chiefs of Missions have not been required to pay appraisal fees. Past efforts to force Chiefs of Missions to pay export duties have usually been unsuccessful and have resulted in the effects under dispute being passed free of duty.
Experiences of departing members of the staff not on the Diplomatic Corps list who have been compelled in the past to have their effects examined and packed in the customhouse have been that
They have not received prompt attention or courteous consideration while undergoing inspection. Several of them have spent days in the crowded and poorly organized inspection rooms while customs officers have leisurely examined their effects.
Their effects have remained unguarded and exposed to dust, vermin and disease germs in the disorderly inspection rooms which are full of miscellaneous effects of all kinds.
The facilities and atmosphere of the inspection rooms are such as not to be conducive to careful packing.
The members of the Diplomatic Corps are in general indignant at the announced ruling and a movement is under way headed by the French and British Embassies to formulate a protest to be adhered to by all diplomatic missions and presented by the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps. Pending the receipt of instructions I have refrained from indicating what the attitude of this Embassy would be towards such a joint protest.
Since Dr. Rumreich who is listed as an attaché and Mr. Durbrow are leaving Moscow in the immediate future the question arises as to whether or not the Embassy will submit without protest to their effects being inspected and examined in the customhouse. Although I fear that a protest even though vigorous in wording would have little effect upon the Soviet internal authorities who are showing even less inclination than heretofore to treat representatives of foreign governments with the consideration and courtesy prescribed by international custom and practice, I feel nevertheless that the American Government should not acquiesce other than under vigorous protest to the treatment which the Soviet Government contemplates giving to members of this Embassy under the new procedure.
Telegraphic instructions would be appreciated.
  1. Not printed.