Hawkins blames 'interpretation' for SFO probe

Last updated 09:08 23/01/2013

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One of New Zealand's largest privately-owned construction companies blames "differing contractual interpretations" for a client complaining to the Serious Fraud Office.

Yesterday the SFO said it had closed its investigation into Hawkins Construction following the serving of search warrants and seizing of computers from a central Auckland construction site in August last year.

It is understood the investigation focused on complaints about Hawkins' contracted role in state-owned Transpower's $419 million upgrade of Auckland's electricity grid, particularly ongoing work at the Hobson Street substation.

Hawkins' executive general manager Dan Ashby welcomed the decision not to prosecute.

"We have maintained all along that there has been no intent to defraud by Hawkins or its employees, and are pleased that no evidence of wrongdoing was found," he said.

"The SFO's view that the issue is one of differing contractual interpretations is consistent with our own view." NZX-listed Vector is a partner in the upgrade and said in its 2011 report to shareholders that its contribution amounted to $46m.

SFO acting chief executive Simon McArley said that while the five-month investigation had thrown up some unusual conduct, no evidence had been found that would justify a criminal prosecution.

"While the manner in which the parties conducted their business appears to us to be unusual, we have evidence from industry experts that it is entirely possible that those involved honestly believed the conduct was legitimate," he said.

McArley said the episode should serve as a warning to all businesses entering into contracts, particularly in the construction industry, and he encouraged firms to be up-front and honest.

"Attempts to disguise, bury or fudge the true nature of transactions can easily risk crossing the line into a criminal deception," he said.

He wouldn't name the complainant that initiated the investigation.

Vector and Transpower did not respond to questions about whether the contractual dispute would be taken further.

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- BusinessDay.co.nz

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