Hawkins Construction business dealings 'unusual'

ANDREA FOX AND MATT NIPPERT
Last updated 09:37 23/01/2013
Hawkins Construction
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Big job: Hawkins Construction was among the firms that benefited from the construction of the waterfront Wynyard Quarter before the Rugby World Cup, picking up the $25.5m Viaduct Events Centre contract.

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Questions were raised over $419m power grid upgrade, report Andrea Fox and Matt Nippert .

One of New Zealand's largest privately-owned construction companies, Hamilton-founded Hawkins Construction, has avoided criminal prosecution, despite the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) discovering "unusual" business conduct.

Yesterday, the SFO said it had closed its investigation into Hawkins Construction following the seizure of computers from a central Auckland construction site in August last year.

The Hawkins business started more than 65 years ago in the Hamilton garage of Fred Hawkins, and its cranes have since towered over many of the city's major developments, including the current Citygate office development in Anglesea St. The development is by McConnell Group, parent company of Hawkins, based in Auckland since 1988.

Fairfax understands the investigation focussed on complaints about Hawkins' contracted role in state-owned Transpower's $419 million upgrade of Auckland's electricity grid.

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 while the five-month investigation had thrown up some unusual conduct, evidence had not 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."

McArley said the episode should serve as a warning to all businesses entering into contracts - particularly in the construction industry - and encouraged firms to be upfront 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 would not name the complainant.

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

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.

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- Waikato

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