Whistle-blower on Hong Kong’s Sha Tin-Central rail link construction scandal ‘made up stories’
- Lawyer accuses Jason Poon of fabricating claim about being forced to destroy photographic evidence
- But Poon says Paul Shieh SC is wasting taxpayers’ cash by haggling over trivial inconsistencies in his account
Sparks flew on Thursday at a high-level inquiry into a construction scandal involving Hong Kong’s most expensive rail project as the whistle-blower accused a key lawyer of wasting taxpayers’ money by haggling over trivial inconsistencies in his evidence.
During a fourth day offering his account of events to the commission of inquiry investigating shoddy work on the Sha Tin-Central link, Jason Poon Chuk-hung at one point lost his temper as he was grilled by Paul Shieh Wing-tai SC, who is representing the main firm on the project, Leighton Contractors (Asia).
Shieh accused Poon of making up stories about being forced by Leighton management to destroy a large quantity of photos related to faulty work on an expanded Hung Hom station platform for the rail line, which has cost the city HK$97.1 billion (US$12.3 billion).
He also said Poon had failed to include sufficient detail in his witness statements. There were a lot of discrepancies between his evidence at the inquiry hearing and his written submissions, Shieh said.
“You made up this story about the deletion of photos on your computer,” the lawyer asserted.
Poon, the managing director of subcontractor China Technology Corporation, was hired by Leighton to carry out concreting work at Hung Hom station.
Leighton has been embroiled in allegations that steel bars were cut short to fake proper installation into couplers on the platform and supporting diaphragm walls were changed without authorisation.
But Poon immediately hit back at Shieh’s claims.
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“I feel it’s so strange that Mr Shieh has kept haggling over the deletion of photos and not about how steel bars were cut,” Poon said. “Does this mean we should focus our energy on finding inconsistencies between different witness statements?”
Earlier Poon said he was disappointed with the progress of the inquiry.
“Today is the ninth day of the hearing. So far we’ve only learned how useless the MTR Corporation’s hold-point inspection system is, and we haven’t arrived at any particular findings,” he said.
Poon was referring to the stage at which the railway operator brings construction to a halt until an inspection is passed.
“I really wonder how important the discrepancies in some minor details are to the terms of reference of this inquiry,” he added. “I think lawyer Shieh is wasting taxpayers’ money.”
But Shieh accused Poon of portraying himself as “David fighting Goliath, skilfully, before the media”.
“This constant reference to you being gagged by a confidentiality agreement is just a media stunt on your part to create an adverse impression that Leighton was trying to stop you talking about threaded rebar cutting,” the lawyer said, referring to the steel bars.
Tempers flare at Sha Tin-Central rail link inquiry as whistle-blower tries to introduce new evidence on scandal without prior notice
Inquiry chairman Michael Hartmann, a former non-permanent judge on Hong Kong’s top court, said the questions put to Poon were proper because lawyers needed to test whether evidence was credible. He assured Poon that if he were being mistreated or prejudiced, the commission would stop the line of questioning.
Poon also said he had been told by a Leighton worker that the company had bought a new hydraulic cutter in 2015 to speed up the bar cutting process.
Hartmann called this claim “quite important”, saying it was the first time he had heard it.
“But I’m going to question just how much reliance I can give to this piece of evidence you have now given me, because it hasn’t appeared in a statement in a concise form that I know of,” Hartmann said.
The hearing continues.