Witness in Hong Kong MTR construction scandal says worker ‘harassed’ him before he was to testify on shoddy works
- Statement before commission of inquiry contains photos of two workers for main contractor cutting bars at Hung Hom station
- Claims of steel bars being cut short to fake proper installation at platform plague HK$97.1 billion Sha Tin-Central link
A worker for the main contractor at the centre of a construction scandal plaguing Hong Kong’s most expensive rail project was said to have “harassed” a witness two days before he was supposed to testify at an inquiry into the alleged shoddy works, it emerged on Wednesday.
The witness is Ian But Ho-yin, a worker with the concreting subcontractor China Technology Corporation, whose boss blew the whistle on the saga. But made the allegations at a hearing of the commission of inquiry appointed by the government to examine claims that steel bars were cut short to fake proper installation at a station platform on the HK$97.1 billion (US$13 billion) Sha Tin-Central link.
But said he spotted workers for Leighton Contractors (Asia), the main contractor, cutting the bars at the link’s Hung Hom station on three occasions.
His statement submitted to the commission by lawyer Simon So, representing China Technology, contained photos showing workers cutting steel bars. But identified and named two of them as working for Leighton.
Speaking at the hearing on Wednesday, But said one of the two workers called him on Monday, saying: “I don’t even recognise myself in the photo. It is so amazing that you can recognise me.”
But said he told the worker he had identified the two by their uniforms and the face mask one of them wore at the site.
He added that he told the worker who called him: “If you continue to call me ... you are like harassing the witness.”
Commission chairman Michael Hartmann, a former non-permanent judge on Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal, later reminded But not to discuss any evidence with others.
Detailing the first occasion he witnessed, But said he spotted at least two workers for Leighton cutting about 10 steel bars in mid-September 2015.
He recalled the scene grabbing his attention, saying he had never before seen the red cutting machine.
“The sound was rather sharp and loud,” he said, noting the workers had spent about a minute cutting each bar.
But, 25, recalled the second and third occasions as happening in early February 2016, when he saw workers cutting the steel bars on two separate days, with two to three bars being cut each time.
He also said he had seen between 20 and 30 shortened bars on the ground on two additional occasions.
However, at the hearing But said he did not remember seeing any workers trying to put the shortened bars into the couplers, although he told the commission in an earlier statement that he had witnessed such an act.
When asked about his qualifications in steel bending by Ian Pennicott, QC, lead counsel for the commission, But noted he was new to the industry. Yet he said he could tell cutting the bars in half was “problematic” based on his experience assembling a wooden cupboard at home.
On Wednesday the inquiry also heard that Hong Kong’s railway operator MTR Corporation and Leighton had not signed official paperwork that could prove whether inspections had indeed taken place.
Jean-Christophe Gillard, a director of Intrafor, another subcontractor, testified that he was told it was common for inspectors to forget to sign such records if they had to go and handle something else.
“The inspections really took place,” Gillard said. “It is not unusual to have missing signatures.” He added that “MTR had always been there” during the inspections.