The Ambassador in France (Straus) to the Secretary of State
[Received March 20.]
Sir: I have the honor to enclose a copy and translation of a note from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs dated March 5, 1936, wherein the Ministry proposes the conclusion of an agreement between France and the United States whereby the Customs authorities of the two countries would assist each other in the detection of frauds upon the Customs revenue.
With the Ministry’s note is enclosed a draft convention78 providing that the Customs administrations of the two countries will communicate to each other all information concerning irregular imports and exports which may be brought to the knowledge of the customs service and which might facilitate the suppression of fraud in the other country, and providing further that the customs administration concerned shall send directly to the other, upon the latter’s request, all information which may have been gathered from documents in its possession, and that such information may, in case of the prosecution of smugglers before the courts, be communicated to the judicial authorities.
The Ministry for Foreign Affairs requests that the proposed convention be submitted to the American Government with the inquiry whether it would be in favor of concluding such an agreement which, in the opinion of the Ministry, could be effected by an exchange of notes.
The Department will recall the difficulties encountered by the American Customs Administration last year in its efforts to obtain [Page 129] information from the French Customs in connection with suspected fraud upon the customs revenue caused by the action of certain exporters at Le Havre in repacking Italian hats, in which case the French Customs eventually supplied the information desired only upon condition that it would be used for administrative purposes only and would not be communicated to the judicial authorities for use in prosecuting the offenders. (See Embassy’s despatch No. 1927, May 30, 1935.79)
The Treasury Attaché of the Embassy informs me that subsequently the French customs authorities had occasion to demand similar information from the Customs administration of the United States in connection with the fraudulent documentation of radio tubes, and that on his advice the information was supplied only under similar assurances from the French authorities that it would not be used in the courts. When the French authorities complained that the information to be of real value must be communicated to the judicial authorities, Mr. Wait says that they were informed that the restriction of the use to be made thereof was exactly the same as that imposed by the French authorities upon the information they had supplied in the case of the Italian hats.
The fact that the American Customs Administration had restricted the use to be made of the information given in the above case seems to have brought the French authorities to a realization of the desirability of mutual unrestricted communication between the customs services in such matters, and the note from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs would appear to be the result of that realization.