image

Hong Kong MTR

Tempers flare at Sha Tin-Central rail link inquiry as whistle-blower tries to introduce new evidence on scandal without prior notice

  • Jason Poon was testifying for the first time and produced two photos without earlier informing commission of inquiry
PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 October, 2018, 11:22pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 October, 2018, 12:59am

Tempers flared at a high-level inquiry into a construction scandal plaguing Hong Kong’s costliest rail project as a whistle-blower on Monday attempted to introduce new evidence without prior notification.

There was heated exchanges at the commission of inquiry looking into claims of shoddy work at the Hung Hom station of the HK$97.1 billion (US$12.3 billion) Sha Tin-Central link as scandal whistle-blower Jason Poon Chuk-hung gave evidence for the first time.

Lawyers argued over whether Poon should be allowed to produce fresh evidence – two photos – without prior notice to the commission and supporting information.

At one point, inquiry chairman Michael Hartmann, a former non-permanent judge on Hong Kong’s top court, snapped at the lawyers of several parties and argued that if the evidence was important Poon should be given an opportunity to present it in writing.

“I didn’t suggest at any stage that you had indulged in lawyer tricks. I didn’t want a situation where the commission at a later stage will be criticised. I hope I made myself understood,” he told them sternly.

New photos ‘could prove vital’ in Sha Tin-Central link scandal inquiry

Poon is managing director of subcontractor China Technology Corporation, hired by main contractor Leighton Contractors (Asia) to conduct concreting work for the station platform.

Leighton, embroiled in allegations that steel bars used in reinforced concrete were cut short to fake proper installation into couplers on the platform, had earlier accused Poon of being a commercially disgruntled subcontractor acting out of revenge over a payment of HK$6 million.

Various lawyers sprang up to attack Poon as his counsel Christopher To presented two new photos at the hearing and asked for his comments.

One photo purportedly showed four workers at a site where diaphragm walls were being built. Poon suggested two employees were from Leighton and the others from steel-fixing subcontractor Fang Sheung Construction. The other photo showed the arrangement of steel bars for the diaphragm walls.

However, just as Poon was about to argue that fake threaded bars were installed at the diaphragm walls for supporting the station platform, Hartmann interrupted him about the new evidence.

“I am a little bit puzzled by what came out just now. If they are new matters, then they shouldn’t just come in right at the beginning of examination in chief. It puts other parties at a disadvantage in not being able to understand what is being said,” he said.

Credibility of rail scandal whistle-blower called into question

Ian Pennicott SC, QC, for the commission, also protested that the photos were not introduced in the correct manner. “If they want to use these photos to make a series of points, they had plenty of opportunity to do so,” he said.

“Every time we make a move forward, China Technology seems to bring us back again.”

He added that four new photos were submitted in an abrupt application last Friday.

Paul Shieh Wing-tai SC, representing Leighton, jumped in, accusing Poon of attempting to hijack the inquiry.

Philip Boulding QC, for Hong Kong’s rail giant the MTR Corporation, said: “One of my functions is to ensure there is fair play so far as the MTR is concerned.”

Hartmann said if Poon had any new evidence to produce, he should have followed the proper procedures of submitting the fresh evidence to the commission accompanied with explanations in writing. Poon was reminded not to present the new evidence at the last minute without prior notice.

MTR rail link contractor slams ‘disgruntled’ whistle-blower at inquiry

Hartmann also reminded lawyers of the inquiry’s purpose.

“The overriding objective is not to determine litigation of the classic kind … Our purpose is to try to get the truth out in the public interest,” he said.

Poon eventually dropped the new evidence, saying he would not rely on the photos for making his case.

The hearing continues.