Police efforts hit language barrier in sanctions-busting case

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 June, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 June, 1993, 12:00am

POLICE have hit a language barrier in efforts to pursue their first Serbian sanctions-busting case in Hongkong because of a lack of interpreters.

More than 60 box-files of documents seized last Wednesday in a raid on a Tsim Sha Tsui trading firm have been found to be written mostly in the Serbo-Croat language, which few people in the territory understand.

If help is found to help translate the documents, it is likely the work will take several weeks before officers of the Commercial Crime Bureau can analyse them to find out about the firm's dealings with Serbia.

However, it is believed the lowly payment rate offered for such work by the Government is unlikely to attract potential helpers readily.

According to records, only three Serbians in Hongkong have ever registered to do interpretation or translation for the Government.

The three provided their services during a court case last October.

But officials said they appeared to be wealthy, arriving at court in expensive cars, and they had complained about the low fees they were paid.

The standard Government rate is $159 per hour for interpreters and $58 per 100 words for translators.

''The first Serbian we found to assist in a case was a merchant and he helped police to take evidence. He then introduced a Serbian woman to us since he was too busy to render further help,'' a source said.

''The Serbian woman is a highly-educated person, who lives in Mid-Levels, and she was unhappy about the interpretation fee she received. She helped for one trial day and then referred her friend to us, who helped us until the end of the case.'' A Serbian merchant in Hongkong, approached by the South China Morning Post yesterday, said he and several other friends could translate Serbian into English, but might not want to do so.

''It is not that easy, since we are working from day to night here, as well as during weekends. It is difficult for us to find time to do the translation,'' the Serbian said.

A 19-year-old Serbian, connected with the firm, was arrested during the raid on suspicion of violating the UN sanctions. The arrested man is said to be in charge of the trading company, which is known to be a Hongkong branch office of a well-known Serbian company.

The man is out on police bail until the end of this month pending investigation.

The company was set up in the middle of last year and has been exporting furniture, carpets, computers and clothing to Serbia via Russia.

In addition, two laser gun-sights were shipped to Russia, which the Serbian man claimed were for his friends to do target shooting.

The raid was carried out jointly by the police and the customs under Serbian and Montenegro (UN Sanctions) (Dependent Territories) Order 1992.