Thursday, February 22, 2024

Court hears of disputed translations in donations trial

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Seven people are on trial at the Auckland High Court over donations to two political parties. Times file photo Wayne Martin

An expert in Chinese languages has given evidence in a trial relating to alleged wrongdoing over election donations.

Dr Hui Ling Xu teaches Mandarin as a foreign language at the University of Newcastle in Australia.

She was the first defence witness called to testify in court on Monday this week in the trial of seven people charged by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) over large donations made to the National and Labour parties.

On trial before Justice Ian Gault at the Auckland High Court are controversial former Botany MP Jami-Lee Ross and businessmen Yikun Zhang, Shijia (Colin) Zheng and Hengjia (Joe) Zheng.

The Crown alleges the four men were involved in a plan to split two large donations made to National in 2017 and 2018 into smaller amounts to avoid having to disclose the identity of the true donor or donors to the Electoral Commission, as legally required.

Ross, Zhang, and Colin Zheng each face two charges of obtaining by deception.

Joe Zheng faces one charge of obtaining by deception and one charge of providing false or misleading information.

Zhang and the Zheng brothers also face charges, along with two men and a woman whose names are suppressed, over a donation made to Labour at a fundraising art auction in 2017.

The Crown alleges the money the party raised at the event came from Zhang and not the five people whose names were provided to the party as the buyers of the same number of paintings.

On Monday morning defence lawyer John Katz QC, representing Zhang, told the court that translator Dr Hui Ling Xu was his client’s only defence witness.

The court heard Xu lectures in Chinese studies in Australia and teaches Mandarin as a foreign language.

She has a PhD in Chinese linguistics and is from the Chaoshan region of China, as is Zhang.

Xu, who is fluent in the Teochew dialect, was previously tasked by Zhang’s defence team to translate messages that form part of the SFO’s evidence in the case.

Katz’s co-counsel Lauren Lindsay asked Xu how she would translate an audio message from one language to another.

Xu said she would listen to the audio file, translate it word for word to create a literal translation so the reader can see exactly what was said, then create a standard English language translation.

Lindsay asked Xu about five WeChat messages that form part of the Crown’s evidence.

Translations of parts of the messages are disputed.

The court heard audio of a voice message a person sent to Zhang in March, 2017.

Xu’s translation of part of the message was that the sender said the paintings were “very expensive”, while the SFO’s translator said that part of the message described the paintings as “high end”.

Xu’s translation of another part of a message was that the sender told Zhang “you may like to keep a few for yourself”, whereas those words were not in the translation done by the SFO’s translator.

The trial continues and is set down to take 10 weeks.

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