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The Chief of the Division of Western European Affairs (Marriner) to the Acting Counselor of the British Embassy (Chilton)
WASHINGTON, November 7, 1927. DEAR CHILTON: I beg to refer to your letter of September 28, 1927, in which you request to be informed regarding the privileges officials of the League of Nations are entitled to in this country. You state that you understand in certain circumstances League officials are granted diplomatic visas by the United States Government.
As you are doubtless aware, under customary International Law diplomatic privileges and immunities are only conferred upon a well defined class of persons, namely those who are sent by one State to another on diplomatic missions. Officials of the League of Nations are not, as such, considered by the Department to be entitled to such privileges and immunities under generally accepted principles of International Law but only under special provisions of the Covenant of the League which can have no force in countries not members of the League.
In the estimation of this Department the executive authorities of this Government would not be warranted, under our law which is declaratory of International Law, in according to officials of the League of Nations diplomatic privileges and immunities in the United States since such persons are not comprehended in the definition of diplomatic officers contained in our Statutes.
I may add that such an official would customarily be given a diplomatic visa on the basis of his diplomatic passport and accorded the courtesies usually extended to holders of such passports. You will appreciate the fact, however, that no assurance can be given that such a visa would be regarded as entitling the holder to the privileges and immunities of a diplomatic officer provided for in the laws of the United States. Sincerely yours,
J. THEODORE MARRINER
EXEMPTIONS FROM TAXATION AND CUSTOMS DUTIES ENJOYED BY FOREIGN DIPLOMATIC AND CONSULAR OFFICERS IN THE UNITED STATES
The Secretary of State to the Irish Minister (Smiddy)
WASHINGTON, January 22, 1927. SIR: In compliance with the request made in your note of January 19,55 I have the honor to inform you as follows concerning the exemption from taxation and customs duties enjoyed by foreign diplomatic and consular officers in the United States :
55 Not printed.
Ambassadors and Ministers accredited to the United States and the members of their households, including secretaries, attachés, and servants, are exempted from the payment of Federal income tax upon their salaries, fees and wages, and upon the income derived by them from investments in the United States in stocks and bonds and from interest on bank balances in the United States. The income derived from any business carried on by them in the United States would, however, be taxable.
Property in the District of Columbia owned by foreign governments for Embassy and Legation purposes is exempt from general and special taxes or assessments. Property owned by an Ambassador or Minister and used for Embassy or Legation purposes is exempt from general taxes but not from special assessments for improvements. The payment of water rent is required in all cases, as this is not regarded as a tax but the sale of a commodity.
Under a recent ruling of the Treasury Department of the United States all foreign consular officers and the employees of foreign consulates in the United States who are nationals of the State appointing them, on the basis of reciprocity, are exempted from the payment of Federal income taxes on the salaries, fees and wages received by them in compensation for their consular services.
The taxes on the sale of automobiles and jewelry provided for in Sections 600 and 604 of the Revenue Act of 1924 58 are taxes imposed upon the manufacturers of automobiles and upon the vendors of jewelry. In the collection of such taxes the Government looks to the manufacturer and to the vendor for the payment of the tax and not to the purchasers of the articles. For this reason and the further reason that the price of the article sold is a matter of negotiation between the vendor and the purchasers, the appropriate authorities of this Government have taken the position that no exemption from the payment of these taxes can be granted to the manufacturer or vendor by reason of the fact that the sale is made to a diplomatic representative of a foreign government.
The members of foreign diplomatic missions and foreign consular officers in the District of Columbia are exempt in the District from the payment of personal property taxes on automobiles and other personal property, either tangible or intangible, owned by them. They are furnished identification tags and operators' permits for their automobiles, without charge, provided the applications made therefor bear the seal of the mission and the seal of the Department of State. It is understood that automobiles bearing District of Columbia tags are permitted to enter the several States without obtaining additional tags. Members of foreign diplomatic missions in the United States and foreign consular officers stationed in the District of Columbia are accordingly not required to pay the fees ordinarily charged other owners of automobiles in this country.
56 43 Stat. 253.
258346–42 vol. 132
The fees and taxes for automobiles and other property to be charged foreign consuls in the several States of the United States, in the absence of applicable treaty provisions, are subject to regulation by the States in which the consuls are stationed.
By an order dated July 8, 1921, the Collector of Taxes of the District of Columbia was authorized to issue dog licenses to foreign legations without charge.
Articles 404 and 405 of the United States Customs Regulations of 1923 provide for the granting of customs courtesies and the exemption from the payment of customs duties, to diplomatic and consular officers of foreign countries and outline the procedure to be followed by such officers in requesting these courtesies.
Under these regulations foreign ambassadors and ministers, and the secretaries and other attachés of foreign embassies and legations, and their families, are entitled to the free admission of their baggage and effects on their arrival in this country, whether they are stationed in the United States or are en route to missions in other countries. Subsequent to their arrival in the United States they are permitted to import, without the payment of duty, merchandise of any characer, if intended for their use or for the use of their families.
Foreign consular officers and their families are accorded the privilege of the free entry of their personal and household effects at the time of their arrival in the United States to take up their official duties or upon their return to their posts in the United States after leave of absence. The baggage and effects of foreign consular officers are subject to such scrutiny by customs officers as may be necessary to ascertain whether or not intoxicating liquors or other legally proscribed commodities are contained therein.
Supplies intended for official use of foreign embassies and legations and foreign consulates in the United States, such as office furniture and office material, may be entered free of duty. Exhibits of the products of foreign countries, if forming a part of the permanent exhibitions in the consulates may also be admitted free of duty.
The granting of these customs exemptions to diplomatic and consular officers of foreign countries is conditional upon the granting of similar exemptions to American diplomatic and consular officers by these countries.
Any material imported by a foreign government to be used in constructing an embassy or legation building is exempted from the pay. ment of customs duties.
The above statement, although not exhaustive, describes some of the more important immunities and exemptions accorded foreign diplomatic and consular officers in the United States. If information is desired in regard to any particular immunity or exemption not referred to herein, the matter will, upon request, be given further consideration. Accept (etc.)
For the Secretary of State:
J. BUTLER WRIGHT
RIGHT OF FOREIGN GOVERNMENTS TO ACQUIRE, WITHOUT RE
STRICTION, PROPERTY FOR EMBASSY OR LEGATION PURPOSES IN THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
The Egyptian Chargé (Kamel) to the Secretary of State No. 1332
WASHINGTON, January 14, 1927. The Charge d'Affairs ad-interim of Egypt presents his compliments to His Excellency the Secretary of State and has the honour to inform him that the Egyptian Government are considering buying a house in Washington for the Legation.
Before deciding definitely on the matter, the Egyptian Government should like to know if the Laws of the United States restrict in any way the right of Foreign Governments to own property.
The Charge d'Affairs ad-interim of Egypt avails himself of this opportunity to express to His Excellency the Secretary of State the assurances of his highest esteem.
The Secretary of State to the Egyptian Chargé (Kamel) The Secretary of State presents his compliments to the Chargé d'Affaires ad interim of Egypt and has the honor to acknowledge the receipt of his note of January 14, 1927, asking if the laws of the United States restrict in any way the right of foreign governments to own property.
The Secretary of State has the honor to inform the Chargé d'Affaires ad interim of Egypt that the Government of the United States places no restrictions on the owning of property for Embassy or Legation purposes by foreign governments in the District of Columbia. It may be stated, however, that real property in the District of Columbia is subject in general to the laws of real property in force in the District notwithstanding that it may be owned by a foreign government.
The Commissioners of the District of Columbia have informed the Department that the following rules regarding exemption from taxation under international usage have been adopted by the Commissioner under the advice of the Corporation Counsel of the District of Columbia :
"Property owned by foreign governments and used for legation purposes is exempt from general and special taxes or assessments. Property owned by a minister and used for legation purposes is exempt from general taxes but not from special assessments for improvements.
There are also expenses incident to the property not in the nature of the tax which of course should be paid by the foreign government.
WASHINGTON, January 25, 1927.
SUITS AGAINST UNITED STATES SHIPPING BOARD VESSELS IN
The Acting Secretary of State to Diplomatic and Consular Officers
WASHINGTON, August 30, 1927. SIRS: In an opinion handed down on June 7, 1926, in the case of Berizzi Brothers Company, Appellant, vs. The Steamship “Pesaro 58 the Supreme Court of the United States held that a ship owned and possessed by a foreign government and operated by it in the carriage of merchandise for hire is immune from arrest under process based on a libel in rem by a private suitor in a Federal District Court exercising Admiralty jurisdiction. You are therefore directed to cancel the text under subtitle numbered one, Suits Against Shipping Board Vessels in Foreign Courts, of General Instruction, Consular, No. 871 of January 11, 1923,59 but you are not to cancel the title itself.
The Decision of the Supreme Court referred to above has not changed the general policy of the Department of refraining from claims of immunity in the courts of foreign countries for vessels owned by the United States Shipping Board, and you should not endeavor to obtain immunity for Shipping Board vessels unless you receive express instructions from the Department to take such action in a particular case.
You are instructed to make a marginal notation under the subtitle, Suits Against Shipping Board Vessels in Foreign Courts, of General Instruction, Consular, No. 871, referring to this instruction. I am [etc.]
W. R. CASTLE
For previous correspondence concerning status of United States Shipping Board vessels in foreign countries, see Foreign Relations, 1926, vol. II, pp. 478 ff.
271 U. S. 562.