SFO fast-tracks Hobson St investigation

MATT NIPPERT
Last updated 07:57 04/09/2012

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The Serious Fraud Office has fast-tracked its investigation into a major Auckland building site following a raid that entangled a large construction firm, a major listed company and a state owned enterprise.

On Friday afternoon the SFO served a search warrant on the Hobson St substation building site and it is understood several computers were among items seized.

The project, worth tens of millions of dollars, is being managed by major building firm Hawkins Construction on behalf of joint-venture partners Vector Energy and Transpower.

Nick Paterson, general manager for fraud and corruption at the SFO, said a formal investigation had begun and it was being treated as a matter of urgency.

"The public prominence alone dictates we'll address this one quickly," he said.

The investigation is being conducted under part two of the Serious Fraud Office Act reserved for instances where there are "reasonable grounds to believe that an offence involving serious or complex fraud may have been committed".

Part two allows the SFO the full exercise of its search and seizure powers and indicates a serious and credible complaint has been made. it is understood SFO policy generally requires alleged fraud to exceed $5m for an investigation to be opened.

Vector's 2011 report to shareholders said its contribution to the Hobson St site, and another substation, amounted to $46m.

The substation is part of larger $419m upgrade of Transpower's network designed to reinforce electrical supply to greater Auckland.

A spokesman for Hawkins, one of the country's largest privately owned building companies, said the warrant was "a complete surprise to the company" and the site remained shut yesterday. It was closed for health and safety reasons on Friday as the firm was unable to operate the site safely with non-staff personnel around.

The spokesman said the SFO warrant was confined to the Hobson St site and did not cover other Hawkins projects.

Vector Energy, 75 per cent owned by the Auckland Electricity Consumer's Trust, said through a spokeswoman work at the site should restart tomorrow.

Transpower did not respond to queries.

A source familiar with Hawkins said the construction firm management were left scratching their heads over the search warrant as the situation was novel.

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