Was Leighton Contractors in Hong Kong’s Sha Tin-Central rail scandal guilty of ‘corporate arrogance’?
- Inquiry into shoddy work controversy continues with revelation that whistle-blower was not shown findings of internal probe sparked by his allegations
- Project chief says he did not want to give subcontractor further ‘airtime’ as latter was just applying pressure over commercial dispute
A judge in an inquiry into the construction scandal rocking Hong Kong’s costliest rail project has raised suggestions of “corporate arrogance” over how the main contractor at the centre of the controversy did not disclose findings of an internal probe sparked by a whistle-blower.
Anthony Zervaas, project director of Leighton Contractors (Asia) revealed that his company had investigated claims of shoddy work when the allegations were brought to him by Jason Poon Chuk-hung, managing director of subcontractor China Technology Corporation.
The row between both parties centred on accusations that workers had shortened steel bars to fake their proper installation into couplers at the Hung Hom station of the HK$97.1 billion (US$12.3 billion) Sha Tin-Central link.
Zervaas said an investigation was conducted but he was then told his team found no evidence to prove widespread and systematic malpractice as Poon had suggested. He added that Poon made the claims through email and said former Leighton superintendent Khyle Rodgers was aware of the issue.
But the Leighton project head said he felt its subcontractor was just attempting to apply commercial pressure as part of a business dispute, and therefore did not follow up with Poon on the findings.
Inquiry chairman Michael Hartmann, a former top court judge, questioned the move by Zervaas.
“Didn’t you think it would be perhaps a good idea to go back to him and say: ‘Look, let’s placate the guy, let’s show him the report.’” Hartmann said.
“I wasn’t prepared to give Jason any more airtime on the allegation,” Zervaas replied.
“He was again trying to get commercial gain.”
Hartmann suggested the move could be interpreted as “corporate arrogance”, but Zervaas rejected the idea.
He added that he also kept Rodgers in the dark over Poon’s email because he wanted to make the investigation independent.
“I didn’t want to influence the investigation by talking to anyone about it,” he said.
Another highlight of the inquiry was the extra money Leighton paid to China Technology in 2017.
Zervaas said Leighton had paid an additional sum of HK$6.6 million to China Technology in two occasions that year but those were not for buying Poon’s silence.
“The only money – extra money – he was paid was for earned value or earned work done,” he said.
Although both sides signed a confidentiality agreement, Zervaas insisted no money was paid to Poon over it.
He said he got Poon to sign the agreement so that the latter would cease false allegations every time a commercial dispute surfaced. Zervaas said Poon had smirked but agreed to sign.
He added that Poon did not refute that the allegations were false.
“I don’t think there was any debate about it,” Zervaas added. “There was no resistance.”
The hearing continues.