Couple seek retrial

2012-06-01 00:00

A THAI couple who owned a Durban brothel have asked the high court to set aside their historic conviction for racketeering linked to prostitution and to order a retrial.

Their application for a review is based on allegations that they did not get a fair trial as the Thai interpreter used by the regional court in Durban did not take the prescribed oath, and allegedly did not translate the evidence fluently and competently.

The state is opposing the application. State-appointed advocate Thulani Khuzwayo submitted that it would not be in the interests of justice to start the case anew, since all the Thai witnesses who testified in the trial have gone back to Thailand.

He argued that the high court should accept the statement of the magistrate that the interpreter was properly sworn in.

The high court has reserved judgment in the matter.

The couple, Basheer Sayed and his Thai-born wife, Somcharee Chulchumphorn were convicted of racketeering activities linked to prostitution in May 2010.

They were arrested in 2007 after it was alleged that three Thai women fled from their brothel in Umbilo and sought sanctuary at the Thai embassy.

The state alleged that the three women were recruited in Thailand by Chulchumphorn, who knew that they were going to be employed as prostitutes in Durban.

Regional court magistrate Trevor Levitt convicted the couple on 19 prostitution related charges, including racketeering. Their advocate, Pingla Hemraj SC yesterday argued that the entire proceedings ought to be set aside and the case heard afresh by another magistrate.

Hemraj submitted that Sayed was English speaking and understood some words and phrases in the Thai language, while Chulchumphorn is Thai speaking and speaks only a “smattering” of English.

She said for that reason the evidence of all the witnesses who testified in the case had to be translated. The accused have complained among other things that the interpreter’s English was not fluent, it was difficult to understand what she said and the prosecution had also used her services when consulting with state witnesses before they testified in the case.

It was alleged that her interpretation of the evidence of the Thai witnesses contained more information than the witnesses gave whilst testifying, and the interpreter appeared to be using her prior knowledge of the matter to embellish the answers of witnesses.

Hemraj also submitted that the interpreter did not take a prescribed oath to interpret correctly, and that her subsequent description of the taking of the oath appeared to be “limited to what she had seen on television”. Khuzwayo said in reply a considerable amount of effort had been put into the prosecution which was regarded as a test case and which “dragged on” for three years before the couple was convicted.

He submitted that the accused were legally represented at their trial and their lawyers did not register any complaint against the interpreter at the time. The accused had only instituted the review proceedings after they were convicted.

• ingrido@witness.co.za

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