British Columbia

Concord Pacific loses appeal against deal involving ex-business partner and former Expo Lands

The B.C. Court of Appeal has dismissed Concord Pacific's bid to overturn a trial decision that led to a court-ordered award of millions of dollars to Singapore-based billionaire Hong Leong Oei.

Concord hints at appeal to nation's highest court following split decision

Hong Leong Oei, in his 70s, has been fighting Concord Pacific for the last seven years over a piece of property he bought in Vancouver in 1989 for $40 million as a long-term investment. The Plaza of Nations land is now valued at close to $800 million. (Yvette Brend/CBC News)

The B.C. Court of Appeal has dismissed Concord Pacific's bid to overturn a trial decision that led to a court-ordered award of millions of dollars to Singapore-based billionaire Hong Leong Oei.

Tuesday's judgment is the latest in a protracted legal dispute between two tycoons — Oei and Concord president Terry Hui — over the development of a prime piece of Vancouver waterfront property: the Plaza of Nations on Pacific Boulevard.

Oei says the $800-million site is one of the last waterfront plots in Vancouver still to be developed.

It's been at the centre of a long-running legal battle after a sales deal that went sour seven years ago, with Concord Pacific alleging Oei had acted in bad faith, breaching an agreement.

The disagreement cascaded into a series of lawsuits and counter lawsuits.

Concord appealed after it was ordered last February to pay Oei $5 million in special costs.

The plan to redevelop the Plaza of Nations property includes living space and a public sea walk, daycare and ice rink. (Design James Cheng Architects/Rendering Paul Nowarre for Canadian Metropolitan Properties Corp.)

A proposal currently before city hall that would have the Plaza of Nations become Expo Gardens, a waterfront neighbourhood with substantial public space and a pedestrian bridge linking Rogers Arena and B.C. Place Stadium.

Thirty-two years ago, Oei bought the land for $40 million and, in 2015, almost sold it to Concord before the deal fell apart. The partnership initially had plans for a $1.4-billion, two million-square foot condo development.

In 2015, Hui filed a lawsuit against Oei alleging that he had acted in bad faith and breached their sales agreement.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Peter Voith dismissed Concord's claim in 2019, ordering it to pay Oei's costs due to the "egregious dishonesty" of one of Concord's witnesses.

Concord appealed.

On Tuesday, a three-person panel of the B.C. Court of Appeal upheld the earlier trial decision to dismiss Concord's claim in a split decision, with Justice Sunni Stromberg-Stein dissenting.

Oei and his companies — Hong Kong Expo Holdings Ltd. and Canadian Metropolitan Properties Corp., have also filed a counter suit against Concord Pacific, Hui and others seeking $245 million, claiming abuse of the legal process.

Concord says the lawsuit, which has yet to be resolved, is, itself an "abuse of process" that asks for excessive damages.

The plan to develop the 10-acre Plaza of Nations site involves a 30-storey terraced building. (Design James Cheng Architects/Rendering Paul Nowarre for Canadian Metropolitan Properties Corp.)

Oei's lawsuit alleges a "conspiracy" to tie up the valuable downtown property in litigation to hamper efforts to develop it.

But Concord's legal adviser David Gruber, a partner with Bennett Jones, maintains Oei negotiated a $10-million cash contract with Concord, then refused to honour it.

"Concord and Oei signed an agreement that stated in writing that it was binding, and Concord paid Oei $10 million in cash which has not been returned to Concord," said Gruber on Tuesday in a written statement. 

He says during the trial it became known that Oei had sold a large interest in the Plaza of Nations project to offshore investors and there was a dispute over whether agreements were binding.

Architect James Cheng helps shepherd the Plaza of Nations redevelopment plan through the City of Vancouver's process. The owner hopes to begin building by 2021. (Design James Cheng Architects/Rendering Paul Nowarre for Canadian Metropolitan Properties Corp.)

In Thursday's decision, two of three judges found insufficient legal grounds to interfere with the decision of the trial judge, who ruled the sales agreement too uncertain to be binding.

In a written statement, Concord said it was "naturally disappointed" with the result of the appeal.

"Concord feels strongly on its position and is considering seeking leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada to ask that court to review the important issues raised by the case." 

Oei claims the award of rare special costs last year is one of the highest in B.C. and sends a clear message that courts will not tolerate being misled.

"The false allegations against me have been taken down blow by blow by the courts in B.C.," said Oei, who says he hopes to start construction of the Expo Gardens later this year.

"My biggest capital is integrity. The B.C. courts have upheld my integrity and for that I am grateful."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Yvette Brend is a Vancouver journalist. Yvette.Brend@cbc.ca

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