Hong Kong police called in to investigate faulty work scandal in HK$97.1 billion Sha Tin-Central rail link
Highways Department said that the ‘incident may involve criminal acts’
The Highways Department has asked police to investigate a scandal at the city’s most expensive rail project after the main contractor was accused of instructing a subcontractor to cut corners.
It was responding after receiving a report from the MTR Corporation containing claims that Leighton Contractors (Asia) had told workers at subcontractor Fang Sheung Construction to cut steel bars to make it seem as if they had been screwed correctly into couplers on platforms.
The railway operator stressed it had not formed a conclusion on the scandal and had not seen any documents supporting such allegations.
But on Friday night the department said: “The Highways Department thinks that this incident may involve criminal acts, therefore we have already referred it to police for follow-up.”
A police source said the force would look into all aspects of the case.
Leighton, the main contractor for building the Hung Hom station platforms for the HK$97.1 billion Sha Tin-Central link, insisted it had no direct knowledge of the faulty work and had fully complied with the required standards.
The findings filed by the MTR Corp at the government’s request were revealed as chairman Frederick Ma Si-hang ordered staff to improve their internal reporting arrangements in the wake of the scandal.
Ma admitted there was room for the corporation to do better in a saga that is now the subject of a deeper inquiry launched by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor earlier this week.
An MTR Corp source said that according to its internal reporting system, anything concerning safety must be reported to the board’s capital works committee.
“We are also very critical of ourselves. If we’ve done something wrong we’ll admit it. We’ll never conceal our own wrongdoings,” the source said.
In the 46-page report released on Friday, the MTR Corp admitted there was no documented evidence of the faulty work as the project was in progress.
It revealed that MTR Corp chief executive Lincoln Leong learned about the scandal only from media reports on May 29.
The findings were based on the recollections of former and current MTR Corp staff and interviews with personnel from Leighton Contractors (Asia) and subcontractors Fang Sheung and China Technology Corporation.
Leighton, which won a HK$5.2 billion contract in 2013 to build the Hung Hom station floors and stabling sidings for the rail link, outsourced the steel job to Fang Sheung and concrete work to China Technology Corp.
In the report, the MTR Corp no longer identified any party for the work in question after earlier claiming Fang Sheung workers had cut the bars. Photos the Post obtained showed workers in Leighton uniforms cutting bars.
The controversy erupted last month after the MTR Corp confirmed that on five occasions between August and December 2015 fewer than 25 steel bars in total were shortened. But it admitted failing to keep a record on four occasions because the corporation had already asked Leighton staff to fix the problems.
The source argued it was not general practice in the industry to record every substandard work as long as verbal requests for rectification were issued.
During an internal investigation over the past two weeks, the MTR Corp conceded there were “some contradictions and inconsistencies between the recollections of certain individuals”.
The events in question took place during the chairmanship of Raymond Chien Kuo-fung, whom Ma succeeded on January 1, 2016.
The scandal is now the subject of a deeper probe the city’s leader launched earlier this week by appointing former non-permanent judge of the Court of Final Appeal, Michael Hartmann, to lead a commission of inquiry mandated “with all necessary power”.
MTR Corp said it had yet to find any defects on the project or any safety hazards, but still it would conduct loading tests.
Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting said the report read only like a “warm reminder” to Leighton.
“This seems like a warm reminder from work … the wording is unlike what the MTR Corp has said in Legco, that they will warn [the contractors], with the implication of anger,” Lam said.
He also said the rail firm’s explanations were “vague” and accused MTR Corp of concealing important information and documents, such as emails from relevant parties.
Roundtable lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun questioned the accuracy of the report.
“They have interviewed the wrong guys at Leighton, the two most senior executives of Leighton, which is the managing director and the deputy at that time, those two were the ones involved in dealing with this issue and having conversations with China Technology Corp,” he said.
According to Tien, the two “foreigners” had “disappeared” and are no longer with the company.
The former Kowloon-Canton Railway chairman also said he was told that reports of the incident had been intercepted internally.
He alleged that an MTR Corp site manager had reported the incident to his superiors,
but a high-ranking staffer below projects director Philco Wong Nai-keung could have received the report and not passed it upward.
That said, Tien admitted he had “no evidence” to prove this theory.
A source with insider knowledge told the Post that breaking open the concrete would reveal unrectified work on the cut steel bars.
“The purchasing of new parts would have required filing for new expenses,” the source said, adding that would imply leaving behind a paper-trail.