MTR Corporation hands file to anti-corruption agency over shoddy work scandal on Hong Kong’s most expensive rail project ever
Embattled trains giant gives ICAC previously withheld information from subcontractor, which contradicted the evidence of main contractor – and major MTR partner – Leighton
Hong Kong’s embattled rail giant has given graft-busters formerly withheld information from a subcontractor involved in a recent corner-cutting scandal on the city’s costliest rail project – despite the lack of any corruption allegations.
An insider source said the information that the MTR Corporation handed over, from China Technology Corporation, centred on allegations that Leighton Contractors (Asia) had directly employed workers to install improperly shortened steel bars on platforms.
Leighton was the main contractor in charge of building the Hung Hom station platforms for the Sha Tin-Central rail link, where the shoddy work was found. It signed certifications that work on the station complied with all specifications and statutory requirements.
The controversy erupted last month after the MTR Corp said that, on five occasions between August and December 2015, a total of up to 25 steel bars were shortened to look like they had been screwed correctly into couplers on the platforms, when they had not.
The corporation also admitted failing to record four other instances of substandard work, because it had already asked Leighton staff to fix the problems.
In a statement on Wednesday, the MTR Corp said it had referred some “unverified information” to law enforcement agencies. It did not elaborate.
According to a source familiar with the situation, the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) was among the recipients.
The action came after China Technology, hired by Leighton for concreting work at the Hung Hom site, made a statement to MTR Corp on June 13 regarding the scandal, which directly contradicted evidence given by other parties.
The rail giant did not include the statement in its report sent to the Highways Department on June 15, saying the firm’s evidence had contained allegations strenuously denied by Leighton. After legal advice, the rail operator opted to pass China Technology’s statement to the authorities separately.
The source said: “The firm’s allegations would contradict MTR’s earlier account that the shoddy work was likely to have been carried out by another contractor, Fang Sheung Construction, because China Technology has evidence to show that only Leighton could provide the necessary hydraulic cutters for cutting short the steel bars.
“China Technology’s statement will put MTR Corp in a bad light and undermine its credibility. That’s why MTR refused to make its statement public.”
The source said any ICAC investigation would not yield any results as there were no corruption allegations involved.
“I suspect it is just an MTR attempt to divert public attention and take the heat off this scandal as calls are mounting for it to disclose China Technology’s statement. Now it has every reason not to reveal the firm’s statement and claim that it has fulfilled its duty by reporting the matter to an irrelevant law enforcement agency,” the source said.
In the MTR Corp’s report to the Highways Department, Leighton, which is also its partner on a HK$26 billion rail contract in Sydney, Australia, was accused by subcontractor Fang Sheung of instructing Fang Sheung’s workers to cut the bars. However, photographs obtained by the Post showed workers in Leighton uniforms and helmets cutting bars.
The Highways Department has already asked police to investigate the scandal surrounding the HK$97.1 billion project. A government-appointed commission of inquiry will also investigate.
A police source said the Highways Department only submitted the first bundles of documents to the force on Wednesday, 12 days after the department called on the police to investigate. Police had not approached China Technology.
“We could only start our investigation now and need time to read through all the documents,” the source said. “We will interview concerned parties if necessary and seek legal advice from the Department of Justice.”
However, legislator and former rail boss Michael Tien Puk-sun insisted the best way to unearth the truth was to break open the concrete on the platforms to check for poor work, which he said would only take one or two weeks.
Citing anonymous sources, Tien earlier said 5,000 bars were faulty – about 20 per cent of the total amount – instead of fewer than 25, as was asserted by MTR Corp’s projects director Philco Wong Nai-keung.
Tien said: “The only way to find out the truth is to demolish some small sections of the slab for a sample check. It’s only my good intention to clear their names and to help convince that the project is totally safe.”
Speaking at the Legislative Council on Wednesday, Secretary for Transport Frank Chan Fan said more evidence would be needed to support such a dig.
“The suggestion of demolishing the concrete for the sake of examining whether or not there is substandard work is… without any scientific justification,” Chan said.
“If there is further evidence pointing to the likelihood of such substandard work, then it might warrant another thought.”
Additional reporting by Christy Leung