Sha Tin-Central rail link whistle-blower accuses main contractor of corruption and colluding with Hong Kong MTR to fool public
- Fresh allegations made at commission of inquiry into construction scandal, claiming Leighton Contractors (Asia) told labourers to continue shoddy work
A whistle-blower in a construction scandal plaguing Hong Kong’s most expensive rail project has hit back at his critics with additional allegations, accusing the main contractor of corruption and colluding with the MTR Corporation to fool the public.
The fresh assertions emerged on Tuesday 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 Jason Poon Chuk-hung gave evidence.
Poon is managing director of subcontractor China Technology Corporation, hired by main contractor Leighton Contractors (Asia) to do concreting work for the expanded station platform.
Leighton is embroiled in allegations that steel bars used in reinforced concrete were cut short to fake proper installation into couplers on the new platform. It is also claimed diaphragm walls supporting the platform were changed without authorisation, the top level being reduced by half a metre.
Poon said he was first alerted to the cutting by a staff member during an internal meeting in August 2015. Then, at a site inspection in September 2015 with two Leighton superintendents, he said he witnessed three workers dressed in the firm’s uniforms using a hydraulic cutter to slash threaded rebars one after the next.
He tried to ask the workers to stop but his call was ignored, he said, with a Leighton superintendent asking him to let the cutting continue.
Asked by inquiry chairman Michael Hartmann, a former non-permanent judge on Hong Kong’s top court, what advantages the workers would gain for deliberately sabotaging the structure, Poon cited “corruption”.
“Leighton is operating projects in Hong Kong quite different and unusual from the normal practice of procurement,” the whistle-blower replied. “The benefits and the means of corruption are not as easy as you think.”
Poon explained Leighton encountered problems in screwing the rebars into the couplers on site, so it hired others to conduct the shoddy work and demanded that subcontractor Fang Sheung Construction pay them money for the supplied labour. He said all the substandard work came under Leighton’s supervision.
This malpractice, Poon argued, enabled Leighton to reduce labour costs and save time. The contractor had been under pressure to meet the construction deadline, he told the inquiry.
“That’s why I said it’s a planned endeavour,” he said. “This is corruption!”
He claimed he mentioned the alleged corruption to MTR Corp managers when he was invited to give statements on June 13 to help the rail giant’s investigation. But this assertion was removed from the operator’s June 15 report to the government, he said.
Asked by Ian Pennicott SC, QC, for the commission, why he only raised the subject of corruption on Tuesday and not in his witness statements, Poon said he was bound by the bribery laws to stay silent as a file about Leighton had been opened by the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
Poon also recalled that about one year later, in September 2016, he realised that the shoddy work was far more serious than he initially thought. He said some Leighton staff told him officials had rebuked the firm about the project and that it had subsequently failed to conduct work in accordance with the original plan.
“As a result, Leighton revised the design drawings,” he said.
Poon alleged that the explanations put forward by Leighton and the MTR Corp about the unauthorised changes made to the diaphragm walls were just a “packaged story”.
“It’s a fabrication,” he said.
He refuted claims by both parties that continuous bars were used to replace the installation of couplers at the top level of the diaphragm walls to achieve better structural safety.
Poon insisted he saw the walls randomly chiselled into an A-shape, with bent bars being used at the walls. “It means the bars were not connected to the walls,” he said.
The hearing continues.