The Police accused of repeated negligence in Garden Vista bid-rigging investigation

A renovation subcontractor sentenced for conspiring to offer an advantage in the bid-rigging case, turned himself in early in 2014, but the police did not immediately investigate

Society

Yau Shui-tin, the renovation subcontractor sentenced yesterday for conspiring to offer an advantage to an agent in the HK$260 million bid-rigging case at Sha Tin’s Garden Vista estate, turned himself in early in 2014, but the police failed to record his statement and did not store incriminating evidence, FactWire can reveal.

Yau, 59, was given a prison sentence of 2 years and 11 months today at the District Court for conspiring with others to offer HK$45 million in bribes, in Hong Kong’s biggest bid-rigging case in recent years. FactWire understands that Yau voluntarily surrendered himself to Sha Tin district police at Ma On Shan station early in June 2014, naming other individuals involved. Police did not immediately begin an investigation and did not even record a statement for Yau, it is alleged. It is further claimed that Sha Tin police did not store incriminating evidence against the management company involved.

At the sentencing, Judge Josiah Lam said bid-rigging affected the fairness of the bidding process, allowing unscrupulous businesspeople to maximise dishonest profits and reduce the quality of renovation works. However, he agreed that the defendant had acted only as a middleman in the case, and that his actions in contacting the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) had resulted in the prosecution.

FactWire understands that Yau had voluntarily reported bid-rigging issues to the ICAC at least 4 times since 2004, on three occasions giving a video statement. After the record HK$260 million bid-rigging case at Sha Tin’s Garden Vista estate was made public at the end of 2013, Yau, who also participated in the bid-rigging process, voluntarily provided information to the ICAC on February 25, 2014. The ICAC’s investigation is apparently ongoing.

Some Garden Vista owners feel that Sha Tin police have been apathetic and even negligent, and accuse officers of being more keen to help the incorporated owners halt protests about the case, than to investigate the criminal activity associated with it. 

On November 18, 2013, some owners sent letters to all residents, opposing the exorbitant costs of the renovation project. Late at night, a security staff member surnamed Chau allegedly took the letters out of mailboxes one by one, but was discovered by resident Mandy Li Yuk-yin, who called the police. The management company’s night shift superintendent Tam Chiu-keung alleged to officers at the scene that the action had been ordered by “Director Hui, the most senior one!”

“Director Hui” is Hui Kwan-pik, the on-site property manager of Synergis Management Services, Garden Vista’s management company. Hui was arrested along with Synergis Holdings’ then-executive director Fan Cheuk-hung in last year’s ICAC law enforcement operation.

Mandy Li used her phone to film management superintendent Tam being questioned. That same night, she gave a statement at Sha Tin police station and handed over her memory card. She said that the video was immediately stored into the station’s computer.

Owner Jackson Xu Zhao-ze said that, after the bid-rigging case was revealed in 2013, he went multiple times to the police before formally giving a statement at Sha Tin police station in February 2014. In it, he outlined his suspicions that the Garden Vista project involved a conspiracy to defraud, and asked the police to investigate.

The incident was filed as a miscellaneous case. A month later, on March 19, the police issued a reply, telling Xu the investigation was over.

Months later, in January 2015, Xu and Li went to the police station to give a further statement. When they asked to see the records of the November 2013 mail incident, they discovered that the records of Li’s statement did not mention the key allegation that Hui had directed management staff to remove the letters. Furthermore, the police had not filed the video of the incident.

Details of the Garden Vista project were made public in the end of 2013, sparking demonstrations by owners and the Anti Bid-Rigging Alliance. Since the bid-rigging was made public, multiple complaints have been made by property owners about the police. In early June 2014, some Garden Vista owners received threatening letters. One included a magazine cover depicting the knife attack on Kevin Lau Chun-to, former editor-in-chief of Ming Pao, along with white powder.

Police officers called to investigate the case allegedly did not collect the powder for examination. In January this year, during an owners’ meeting in Garden Vista, a committee member of the incorporated owners was reported to have brought a large amount of ballot papers into the scene. The representative sent to the meeting from the Sha Tin police district’s Crime Unit 3 left the meeting as suspicions of rigged voting were being raised, which angered many owners.

In the wake of the threatening letters, Yau surrendered at Ma On Shan police station on June 12, 2014. He alleged the involvement of the chairman of Garden Vista’s incorporated owners and senior members of the management company in rigging the bid. The police did not record Yau’s statement.

Seeking further details on his encounter with the police, FactWire reporters approached Yau at Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre, where he has been awaiting sentencing since December 22 of last year. He stated that the meeting lasted around 10 minutes, during which senior inspector Dhillon asked him whether bid-rigging was a problem across Hong Kong. Yau responded affirmatively. Yau was then told the police would consult him further, and he was allowed to leave. He was not contacted again to give any statement at the police station.

After learning of Yau’s encounter at the station, Xu called Sergeant Jiang of Sha Tin’s district Crime Unit at 8:30am on August 6, 2014, expressing his discontent and saying: “No matter what, you should at least record a statement.” A few minutes later, a police officer surnamed Pang called Xu to arrange for him to give a statement the next day. Yau was also contacted by Pang to give a statement two days later. On August 29, Police informed Xu orally that the case has been transferred to the ICAC.

Xu claimed that police arranged for Crime Unit 3 to deal with owners’ complaints while Crime Unit 2 was to handle complaints from incorporated owners and the management company. Complaints were made against owners who wrote on apparently misleading notices by the incorporated owners. Xu removed a promotional banner put up by the incorporated owners reading “[the] large renovation is open and transparent”, which resulted in him being charged with property damage. The Department of Justice recommended to the police at last not to make prosecutions.

“I have taken legal advice before and after the incident, and from that I learnt it is not a crime of destroying or damaging property because I was removing the banner with both the management company representative and the police present. The information on the banner is untruthful and it misleads owners to continue to pay fees. Now here it states ‘open and transparent’, but without even records of general ledgers and receipts, we found out it was entirely the opposite…Meanwhile the police fully grasp the situation and know who is the conspirator. If the police arrest me, they have mixed up right and wrong,” said Xu.

Xu continued to allege: “Unit 3 is very lazy with handling such a big case as bid-rigging, but Unit 2 is very active in helping the incorporated owners and the management company control the owners. The whole of Hong Kong knows about the bid-rigging case at Garden Vista, but the focus of the police isn’t on the criminals, [so I] strongly doubt whether they are helping citizens.”

Sha Tin police are no strangers to controversy. Retired former superintendent Franklin Chu King-wai was commander of Sha Tin Division. During the occupy movement in 2014, he was widely condemned for beating pedestrians with his baton in Mong Kok. The Complaints Against Police Office concluded that the complaint “cannot be fully proven to be true”. It was changed to “proven to be true” after the Department of Justice was consulted.

There are deep connections between a number of former top police officers and Garden Vista. One owner, Gordon Fung Siu-yuen, served in the force for 36 years. He retired in 2008 as the Deputy Police Commissioner and Director of Management Services, and was replaced by Andy Tsang Wai-hung. Residents claim that Fung always supported the estate’s renovation project and the owners’ corporation to execute it, even after the bid-rigging case was made public.

Several key management staff at Synergis are retired senior police officials. Wong Tsan-kwong, Synergis Holdings’ independent non-executive director since 2008, joined the police as an inspector in 1963 and was appointed Deputy Commissioner in July 1994. He retired in January 2001. Two years later, he became director of a property management company, overseeing projects including all the People’s Liberation Army’s military grounds and government facilities in Hong Kong. Synergis Holdings is the mother company of Synergis Management Services. Former police superintendent Rosaline Au Yeung Yan-chun is also the security director of Synergis Management Services.

Yau was convicted of conspiring to offer an advantage to an agent from 2005 to 2014 at Garden Vista. He offered HK$45 million in bribes to the chairman of Garden Vista’s incorporated owners Lai Kwok-leung, then-on-site property manager of Synergis Management Services Hui Kwan-pik, and then-executive director of Synergis Holdings Fan Cheuk-hung. Yau was also convicted of offering a bribe of HK$600,000 to Ho Chi-kwong, member of the housing estate renovation committee of Ravana Garden, adjacent to Garden Vista. The bribes were intended to help secure the renovation and consultancy contracts of both housing estates. He pleaded guilty to the charges.

In February 2016, Yau’s lawyer submitted letters of mitigation written for him by more than 200 members of the public, including many Garden Vista owners and the Property Owners’ Anti Bid-Rigging Alliance, to the court.

The ICAC has arrested 20 individuals over the bid-rigging case, including senior staff of the management and consultancy companies, as well as the chairman of the incorporated owners. None has been charged.

FactWire have made enquiries to the ICAC on the above case, including the number of times Yau had turned himself in to the police on bid-rigging cases in various housing estates, as well as the time when ICAC initiated investigation into the Garden Vista $260 million bid-rigging case.

ICAC replied that “the investigation related to other formerly arrested persons is still in progress. The ICAC is not in a position to make any comments.” FactWire asked the ICAC to provide the number of corruption reports, and the number of persons prosecuted and convicted that is related to building renovation projects in the past five years. The ICAC replied that no such numbers are available.

FactWire have also enquired the police about the case mentioned above, including the reasons behind the police failing to record Yau’s statement after he turned himself in, failing to store evidences provided by the owners, and the investigation process on the fake ballot paper incident at the owners’ meeting. Until 10am today, the police has given no responses so far. 

On the case of building renovation projects, as of the number of calls to the police seeking help so far, the Police Public Relations Bureau responded that the Organized Crime and Triad Bureau have implemented the RenoSafe Scheme, and from its records, “until August 2016, the police hotline have received 221 general enquiries, 41 of them reports, and among them 28 were cases involved in the pricing of building renovation projects. The cases have been referred to the relevant units or other departments for follow-up action.”


Sha Tin police district’s investigation of the Garden Vista bid-rigging case timeline:

November 18, 2013: Owners send letters to all residents opposing the renovation project. A security staff member is seen taking letters out of mailboxes. Police officers at the scene are told “Director Hui” (Hui Kwan-pik) ordered the action. The incident is filmed by a resident who hands video to police.

February 18, 2014: Garden Vista owner Jackson Xu Zhao-ze tries to report alleged conspiracy to defraud, and asks for an investigation. Sha Tin police file it as a miscellaneous case.

February 25, 2014: Subcontractor Yau Shui-tin voluntarily contacts the ICAC and provides information on the Garden Vista bid-rigging case.

March 19, 2014: Police say investigation is over because the case has no criminal element.

Early June 2014: Several Garden Vista owners receive threatening letters. One contains the magazine cover depicting the knife attack on Ming Pao’s former editor-in-chief and white powder. Police officers called to the scene fail to collect the powder for examination.

June 12, 2014: Yau surrenders to police at Ma On Shan station. He reports the alleged involvement of the management company and the incorporated owners. He is told to leave without giving a statement.

August 6, 2014: Xu calls one of the police officers who met Yau, asking them to record a detailed statement from him.

August 29, 2014: Police inform Xu orally that the case has been transferred to the ICAC.

January 14, 2015: Owners go to Ma On Shan station to give statements and find that Garden Vista resident Mandy Li Yuk-yin’s account of the 2013 mail incident does not include a mention of Hui Kwan-pik nor of her video taken of a management worker admitting that his superior ordered the mail theft. They discovered that the video has not been filed by police.

July 2, 2015: The ICAC charges Yau for conspiring with others to obtain benefits in two consultancy and renovation contracts for residential estates in Sha Tin and a residential building in To Kwa Wan through bid-rigging.

December 22, 2015: Yau is taken into custody at Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre to await sentencing.

September 29, 2016: Yau is sentenced to 35 months’ jail at the District Court for conspiring with others to offer HK$45 million in bribes. 

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