“Lazy” lab worker faked concrete tests on $17bn Hong Kong bridge project

A 61-year-old Hong Kong laboratory technician has pleaded guilty to faking tests on the concrete used to build one of the biggest infrastructure projects in the world.

Wong Kwok-yiu was accused of two counts of producing false reports on concrete cubes intended for the $17bn Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge, a 55km link between mainland China and the special administrative regions of Macau and Hong Kong.

Mr Wong’s lawyer told a magistrates’ court in Tuen Mun that his client had cheated out of laziness and incompetence rather than in response to a bribe, and that the concrete he should have tested had in fact met the required standard, reports South China Morning Post.

Wong had been employed by Jacobs China, which was undertaking tests on behalf of Hong Kong’s Civil Engineering and Development Department. He worked at the Public Works Regional Laboratory in Siu Ho Wan on Lantau Island, where he was supposed to conduct compression tests on the cubes.

He is one of 19 former Jacobs employees to be tried in connection with the project. The other 18 are facing allegations that they altered the dates and times of when tests took place and substituted the samples they were supposed to be testing with other materials between 2013 and 2016.

These cases are to be transferred to a district court; no pleas were taken by the magistrates’ court.

Between September 2012 and June 2015, Wong inputted one measurement incorrectly and used the wrong cube when testing the materials. To cover it up, he simulated tests and passed them off as genuine.

Ivy Chui Yee-mei, the magistrate in the case, said: "If the cubes had been of substandard quality, it would have affected the bridge’s structural safety."

The route of the crossing (Kelly Kaneshiro/Creative Commons)

According to the Hong Kong Standard, The department found abnormalities in 346 concrete tests it conducted on the bridge, which led to fears that shoddy material may have been used to build a section of the bridge, although no concerns were raised in subsequent safety tests on the bridge.

Wong will be sentenced on 1 December. The others will appear in a higher court on 7 December, charged with the more serious offence of fraud.

The 19 were arrested by the Independent Commission against Corruption in May, along with two Jacobs China executives. The company was also banned from bidding for public sector contracts for one year and the laboratory was closed down.

When complete, the bridge will create the first direct road link across the Pearl River Estuary, knitting together a region of more than 22 million people. The only way to cross the estuary now is by ferry, with services sometimes disrupted by typhoons.

Since its construction, the bridge has been plagued by delays and some 270 safety incidents. At least 10 workers have died on the project and more than 600 injured.

Top image: The Macau section of the works, taken in 2014 (James Wong/Creative Commons)

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