Text translations ‘best guess’, witness admits

| 29/01/2019 | 0 Comments
Cayman News Service

Cayman Islands Department of Immigration

(CNS): The lead translator who worked on phone messages that form a major part of the crown’s case against seven defendants accused of making or taking bribes in a conspiracy surrounding the immigration department’s English language tests told a court that the job of translating these texts was extremely challenging, with many being just a best guess. The specialist interpreter explained that the texts and WhatsApp messages translated from Spanish into English that have been submitted as evidence of the conspiracy were littered with spelling mistakes, shorthand, coded language, poor grammar and language skills, a lack of punctuation, missing spaces, and often lacked any context, so he could not be 100% certain they were accurate.

The messages were recovered from the phones seized from the defendants at the time of their arrests. Many of the communications between the alleged group of conspirators is in Spanish, as both the civilian defendants and some of the immigration officers on trial are Spanish speakers. The translator told the jury that he had to make educated guesses for many of the messages because there was no way to be certain that the translations were accurate due to the quality and lack of background context for many of them.

Asked by the defence attorneys if there could be errors, he agreed it was possible. When asked to review a few sample translations and given a proposed context, he accepted that the translation that he and his team had concluded could easily be wrong. He said the team had to make assumptions and educated guesses to get to possible translations and had on some occasions offered more than one possible interpretation of a particular message.

The witness also said that Spanish spoken in Latino countries varies and that, given the challenges of poor spelling and grammar, numerous errors, shorthand, slang and even coded words, a comprehensive translation was difficult, leaving the messages open to alternative interpretations. But he said that translating is not an exact science and there is no way to ever ensure 100% accuracy in these types of circumstances.

However, he explained that there were often times when the interpretation was helped by the quantity of messages exchanged between two people, allowing the translators to develop some form of context and patterns in the communication.

The witness was largely focusing on messages sent between a civilian, who is accused of organising payments from Spanish-speaking women who needed assistance to get through the immigration English test, and his immigration contact, who also spoke Spanish.

According to one witness who has already admitted her part in the fraud, the women had been employed largely because they were “pretty” and had been told that the owners of bars where they were trying to work would get permits for them based on their photos.

However, many of them spoke no English at all and prosecutors contend they were paying around CI$600 to this Spanish-speaking resident, who was acting as a go-between, taking a cut of the payments and then passing on the rest to his contact at immigration, who in turn was sharing the cash with his colleagues delivering the fraudulent tests.

According to the crown’s case, the messages support the conspiracy. They include texts from the civilian defendants to each other and people they were steering through the tests as well as immigration officers who were also using Spanish.

The messages, which the crown says relate to the conspiracy surrounding the tests, also appear to involve other issues. On a number of occasions discussions among the alleged conspirators seem to relate to the local illegal numbers games based on overseas lotteries.

Following their arrest and when asked to explain the messages about cash payments, some of the defendants have claimed that it is related to gambling, while prosecutors say it is about the English test bribes.

The case continues.

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Category: Courts, Crime

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