A defence lawyer has described an incident in which a Chinese translator was not allowed to interpret for his clients after he could not provide a passport to the court, as “an embarrassment”.
This drama unfolded yesterday in the Windhoek Magistrate’s Court in Katutura at the bail hearing of three Chinese nationals, who are accused of trying to smuggle 14 rhino horns out of Namibia.
In the end, the case could not proceed because of the interpretation woes. Li Xiaoliang, Li Zhibing and Pu Xuexin appeared on charges of possessing and exporting controlled wildlife products.
Even though the Chinese translator Li Cheng had hours before interpreted in another case, where he did not have to produce an identification document, he was pressed to produce a passport in the rhino poaching case.
Defence lawyer Olivier Lino was also offended by the remarks made by the chief interpreter at the court, Filemon Hipondoka, who referred to another Chinese interpreter as “these people that only come to interpret when it is their friends”.
The remarks were made before the proceedings began, when Lino realised that the previous interpreter, who is also Chinese, did not show up.
Lino then approached another translator to assist. However, before the court proceedings could start, Hipondoka expressed his dissatisfaction over using a new Chinese interpreter.
“These people just come here when their friends are here.”
“I take offence,” Lino said about Hipondoka referring to the Chinese as “these people”.
Hipondoka then rephrased his statement to: “These Chinese.”
Lino was still not happy with this term, but Hipondoka said that he would not withdraw the statement.
It was pointed out that Li Cheng had no identification on him and it was decided that the case should begin so that Magistrate George Mbundu could rule on whether he would be allowed to interpret.
State prosecutor Anthony Wilson told Mbundu that the previous interpreter is not at court and that Lino had requested the new interpreter to assist.
“The issue is that he does not have formal identification and that the state is also concerned that he is related to the witnesses, because they have the same surnames”.
Lino said that it was only by chance that he met Li Cheng at court, and if the State had an issue they should make another interpreter available. When Li Cheng was asked what he does for a living, he said he is in the construction industry.
“As everyone is,” Mbundu said.
When Mbundu asked where his passport is, Li Cheng said that he had left it in a car, which a friend was using for the day.
“I am reluctant to make use of the interpreter,” said Mbundu.
He said that it is a problem that the interpreter is not known to the court and that they do not know his background.
Lino, however, said that he feels it is a non-issue and pointed out that the first interpreter was also never asked to present identification and was also not known to the court.
“That is a serious error,” said Mbundu.
He said Li Cheng should present his passport if he wanted to interpret. The court was then adjourned for him to retrieve his identification document, but he never turned up again.
The case was postponed until May 15, when the bail hearing will continue. The State will then make available an interpreter.
Lino expressed concern that his clients do not understand what is going on, as they were under the impression that they were to testify yesterday.