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Language barrier in probes of foreign criminal suspects

Posted January. 07, 2001 19:54,   


Cases of foreigners¡¯ crimes:

A Peruvian was being questioned at the criminal department of Kangso Police Station in Seoul on Nov. 27 last year on suspicion of snatching the handbag of a woman named Park, 26, who was undergoing departure procedures in the International Terminal of Kimpo International Airport.

When questioned, Carlos Albarado, 30, could only say, ``No English.¡¯¡¯ Police officers subsequently called in a Korean who had lived in Peru in order to finish their investigation.

Late September last year, the Kuro Police Station in Seoul asked the court to issue arrest warrants for five Pakistanis, including Abdul Wahid, 33, a trade merchant, on suspicion of beating another Pakistani. But the court rejected the request due to a ``lack of evidence.¡¯¡¯

While the police were investigating the suspects, who were booked without physical detention, the alleged perpetrators fled the country. The police could arrest only one of the five.

Problems in investigating foreigners:

How to communicate with foreigners is the most difficult problem faced by investigators.

The police are supposed to seek help from foreign embassies and interpretation centers in district policy agencies across the nation. But police cannot expect much from the embassies because they place top priority on protecting their citizens, and the interpretation centers tend to suffer from manpower shortages.

So, the investigators often rely on private interpreters, but they also face difficulties in grasping the whole picture of cases because many of the interpreters lack expertise.

A police investigator contended, ``We cannot blame private interpreters, but to our great regret many cases were scaled down and closed because we could not determine the exact damage or determine if the suspects had accomplices.¡±

A 23-year-old student at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies who has worked as an interpreter said, ``It is virtually impossible to induce the suspects to make statements helpful to investigators because make them understand police terminology.¡¯¡¯

Another problem is the unclear division of jobs among investigators. If a foreign criminal suspect speaks Korean, he or she is referred to the criminal department. If the suspect cannot speak Korean, he or she is turned over to foreign affairs department.

Officers at the national police agency's criminal department complain that they handle more foreign suspects than their colleagues at the foreign affairs department. But the officers at the foreign affairs department insist that simple criminal cases should go to the criminal department.

A National Policy Agency (NPA) official said, ``It is true that we are short of specialized manpower and a system for investigating foreign criminal suspects.¡¯¡¯

``We will increase the employment of investigators who can speak foreign languages and will discuss in depth how to divide the labor between the criminal department and the foreign affairs department,¡¯¡¯ he added.

Choi Ho-Won bestiger@donga.com