The Supreme Court of British Columbia has ordered Concord Pacific, one of Canada’s largest property developers, to pay about $5 million in special costs after one of its senior employees was found to be “egregiously dishonest,” in an ongoing legal battle between two Asian tycoons.
The rare special costs award is believed to be one of the highest ever awarded in Canada and sends a warning to litigants that the courts will not tolerate being misled with false claims.
In his ruling, Justice Peter Voith wrote that David Ju, Concord’s vice-president, had misled the court in the case that pits his boss, Terry Hui, against Singaporean billionaire Oei Hong Leong.
Hui is the scion of a Hong Kong family that made its fortune in taxis and real estate. He and Oei are mired in a long running legal dispute over the Plaza of Nations lands, described as one of the most valuable remaining pieces of waterfront property in downtown Vancouver.
“Mr. Ju swore false affidavits, he gave false evidence at his examination for discovery, and he gave false evidence at trial in relation to numerous issues,” he said in a scathing ruling.
Justice Voith said he also holds Concord and its president, Terry Hui, responsible for providing incorrect information.
“There were several instances where Mr. Ju and Mr. Hui gave the same evidence and where I concluded that neither had been forthright. There is therefore some basis to infer or conclude that Mr. Hui, Concord’s president and CEO, was aware that at least some aspects of Mr. Ju’s evidence were not honest.”
Concord has described the decision as “flawed” and plans to appeal the ruling, which has battered the reputation of the company and that of Ju, who is also a board member of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.
This ruling is the latest round in the battle between Concord’s Hui and Singapore-based Oei over a 4.16-hectare (10.28 acre) site known as the Plaza of Nations, which is one of the most valuable remaining developable pieces of waterfront property in downtown Vancouver, valued at over $800 million.
The legal battle stems from a suit filed by Hui against Oei for allegedly acting in bad faith and breaching an agreement to sell his Plaza of Nations land to Concord. After a lengthy court battle, in July 2019 Justice Voith dismissed the claim in its entirety, describing the evidence and conduct of Concord Pacific’s senior officials as “problematic,” “unreliable” and “dishonest.”
He concluded that Concord had negotiated with Oei and his company in bad faith. Concord Pacific is also appealing this decision.
Oei has also filed an abuse of court process case and a $245 million civil conspiracy lawsuit against Concord, both of which are before the courts. Hong Kong’s Charles Chan has been named as a defendant in the civil conspiracy lawsuit. According to Forbes, Chan is a maverick entrepreneur and dealmaker who is known as the “Shell King” for facilitating backdoor listings of companies on the Hong Kong exchange.
This lawsuit also references a $40 million “surreptitious” transaction involving the Asian property titans, as Vancouver is agog with a money-laundering inquiry looking at suspicious cash flow-throughs via the city’s red hot property market.
The allegations in the lawsuit have not been proven in court; neither is there any mention of money laundering in the documents that were filed last October.
Chan is named alongside Concord’s Hui as having allegedly “conspired” to “harm” Oei’s efforts and stop him from dealing with other development companies like the Aquilini Group, which owns the Canucks hockey team.
Oei claims that Chan put up a $40 million “good faith deposit” which was to be held in trust by Concord’s lawyers to enable Hui to continue negotiations with Oei and prevent the latter from talking to other potential partners. However, the money was transferred out of the trust account within two days without informing Oei or his lawyers.
Neither Charles Chan nor Concord responded to requests for comment filed via their companies.
Oei’s lawyer in the civil conspiracy case, William Dick, described this action as a claim for the tort of conspiracy in which two or more persons set out to economically injure another person or entity. He said the alleged wrongful conduct by the defendants led to his client (Oei) losing out on an opportunity to enter into a deal for $800 million involving a third party.
This complex legal tussle has its roots in the 1988 purchase of the entire 82-hectare waterfront property by Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing. The land was the site of the Vancouver Expo ’86, which put the Canadian west coast city on the world map. In 1989, Li sold the 4.16-hectare portion of the property, known as the Plaza of Nations, to Oei for C$40 million. Later, he sold the rest of the property to Concord.
Oei’s vision for his Plaza of Nations land is a waterfront neighbourhood of terraced buildings of up to 30 storeys including a community centre, an ice rink for Vancouverites and the Canucks hockey team, a child-care facility, and a gradual amphitheatre for cultural and performing art events.
It will also have 380 units of social housing, a seawall and extensive public spaces suitable for events and festivals, retail stores, restaurants, cafes and breweries, with a pedestrian bridge linking the area to the neighbouring Rogers Arena and BC Place Stadium.
The development project, called Expo Gardens, is unaffected by the lawsuits and is in the final stages of permitting at Vancouver City Hall.
Oei Hong Leong
Singapore based magnate Oei Hong Leong, who is world-renowned for his corporate bond portfolio and real estate assets, now owns the Plaza of Nations land, which sits adjacent to the Concord Pacific properties. He plans to build a new waterfront neighbourhood of terraced buildings, a community centre, an ice rink for Vancouverites and a gradual amphitheatre for cultural and performing art events. The project, dubbed Expo Gardens, has local community support and is in the final stages of City Hall permitting.
Terry Hui, one of Vancouver’s best-known developers, leveraged his family’s wealth from taxi operations in Hong Kong to lead the Concord Group of Companies. Concord is known for building Canada’s largest urban communities. Over the past 25 years, the Concord group has diversified into other industry sectors including software and information technology, telecommunications, EV power infrastructure and projects of scale in solar, wind and hydroelectric power generation. Most recently, Concord bought the St. Paul’s Hospital site on Burrard Street in downtown Vancouver for nearly $1 billion. Concord has acquired the Westin Bayshore hotel in Vancouver and the Sundial Hotel in Whistler.
Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing, a regular on the Forbes list of the world’s wealthiest, bought the Vancouver Expo ’86 lands in 1988 for $320 million. The controversial sale of the 82-hectare site on the north shore of False Creek made up one-sixth of downtown Vancouver. The following year, Li sold a portion of the property – 4.16 hectares – known as the Plaza of Nations land to Singapore magnate Oei Hong Leong for C$40 million. Li later sold his Concord Pacific, which had originally set out to develop condominium towers on the Expo lands, to Terry Hui.
Until last year, Charles Chan Kwok-keung, was the chairman of Television Broadcasts’ (TVB) board of directors, Hong Kong’s biggest free-to-air broadcaster. He resigned shortly after the broadcaster laid off 350 employees, or 10 per cent of its workforce, and after TVB reported a net loss of US$25.3 million for the full year of 2018. According to Forbes, Chan is a maverick entrepreneur and dealmaker who’s known as the “shell king” for facilitating backdoor listings of companies on the Hong Kong exchange. Chan also chairs ITC Corp., his flagship company, which holds interests in finance, property, infrastructure, hospitality and technology businesses.
Fabian Dawson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, New Canadian Media