Seven technicians working for a Hong Kong government contractor were sentenced to up to two years in jail on Wednesday for falsifying safety test reports for a mega bridge that links the city to Macau and mainland China.
But the District Court handed down either suspended sentences or community service orders to six other co-defendants, after considering they had relatively little participation in the conspiracy related to the multibillion-dollar construction of the 55km (34-mile) Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge.
The 13 defendants were the last group of laboratory workers from Jacobs China, which was responsible for testing the strength of concrete used in the crossing, to be sentenced over altering computer records and replacing genuine specimen cubes with fakes in compiling the test reports. Five other employees were previously sentenced to up to 32 months in jail following their guilty pleas.
Prosecutors said the case had forced the government to spend an extra HK$58 million (US$7.4 million) to redo the tests and pay government staff for overtime work.
District Judge Clement Lee Hing-nin accepted that 12, who pleaded not guilty to one joint charge of conspiracy to defraud, had been pressured by their supervisor to commit the crime to meet tight deadlines. He found that despite the serious nature of the offence, the case did not involve any monetary gain or give rise to substantial safety concerns.
"Although their crimes are inexcusable, their personal circumstances deserve sympathy," he said.
Lee said Ng Kai-yiu, who admitted the charge and testified against the 12 at trial, deserved a reduction of half his jail term in recognition of his testifying for the prosecution, but stressed he had a leading role in instructing his 12 colleagues to make up the test results.
The Independent Commission Against Corruption arrested 21 Jacobs China employees in May 2017, but released two without charge upon further inquiries.
The anti-corruption watchdog laid charges against the other 19 in two separate cases. In one case, technician Wong Kwok-yiu was sentenced to eight months in jail after he pleaded guilty to two lesser charges of using a false instrument between 2012 and 2015.
The remaining 18, including Ng and five others who pleaded guilty, were charged with conspiring to deceive the Civil Engineering and Development Department with intent between 2012 and 2017.
The court heard that the 12 defendants - Tse Tak-lai, Yu Wai-tak, Lee Wing-fai, Sit Ka-chun, Chan Yui-hang, Yiu Yu-fung, Yip Tak-kit, Lee Chi-kan, Ng Man-hung, Cheung Ka-ming, Jo Chan Chi-shing and Kwok Man-fai - had falsified 87 sets of documents between 2013 and 2016 in a testing laboratory in Siu Ho Wan on Lantau Island.
Prosecutors said the defendants changed computer dates when compiling reports to give the impression they conducted compression tests on concrete specimens of the bridge within the time designated by Hong Kong's accreditation authorities.
The defendants also substituted genuine concrete specimen cubes with iron piles or concrete cubes of higher compressive strength to cover up their mistakes in the tests, according to the prosecution.
Passing sentence on Wednesday, the judge jailed Kwok for two years for faking 15 sets of documents over a 11/2-year period - the longest sentence of the 12 defendants. Ng received 22 months in prison.
But Tse, who fabricated the most documents, 19 sets, had his sentence of eight months in jail suspended for two years, after Lee found he might have committed the offence simply because he wanted to help his colleagues complete their jobs.
Lee also suspended the sentences of Sit, Cheung and Jo Chan, and gave Lee Chi-kan and Ng Man-hung community service, in consideration of their low level of involvement.
Five others, Yu, Lee Wing-fai, Chan Yui-hang, Yiu and Yip, were jailed for three to six months.
Senior technician Mak Pui-shing, who was in charge of the laboratory, was last year jailed for 32 months - the heaviest sentence in the case.
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