Hong Kong graft arrests add to China-Hong Kong bridge woes

By Venus Wu

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong's anti-graft agency on Tuesday arrested 21 government contractors on suspicion of falsifying test results for the strength of concrete used in a bridge across the Pearl River estuary to southern mainland China.

The city's Secretary for Development Eric Ma told reporters the government would inspect the structure of the 30-km (19-mile) long Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge to make sure it was safe.

"A lot of times, when the issue is not too serious, a review of the current structure would be sufficient. Of course, when the issue is more serious, we will follow up with more serious actions," he said.

Two senior executives and 19 laboratory technicians from a contractor working for the government allegedly fabricated compression test results for concrete samples, the Independent Commission Against Corruption said in a statement.

The contractor, hired by Hong Kong's Civil Engineering and Development Department for the bridge project since 2013, might have started the falsification in early 2015, it said.

Those arrested have all been released on bail.

The suspected corruption is the latest problem facing the huge project.

After nearly eight years of construction, the cost of the bridge and tunnel project has ballooned to some $19 billion, at the last estimate.

Critics see it as a white elephant that will struggle to become viable and be unlikely to draw the 40,000 or so vehicles a day as forecast. Most construction is expected to be finished by the end of the year.

Nine workers have been killed in accidents during the construction of the Hong Kong section of the bridge.

Mainland Chinese officials are hoping it will bring economic integration at a time of growing tension between Beijing and Hong Kong that has raised concerns about the future of Hong Kong's autonomy.

(Reporting by Venus Wu; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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