British Columbia

Millions in special costs awarded to Plaza of Nations in monster contract dispute over former Expo Lands

A B.C. Supreme Court justice has awarded millions of dollars in special legal costs to a Singapore billionaire after a protracted contract dispute over the Expo lands in Vancouver.

Site owner's lawyer says it is a 'very substantial success against Concord Pacific for my client'

Concord Pacific is known for the massive development of False Creek, transforming the former 204-acre industrial site used for Expo 86 into a highrise residential area. (Gian-Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

A B.C. Supreme Court justice has awarded millions of dollars in special legal costs to a Singapore billionaire after a protracted contract dispute over the Expo lands in Vancouver.

It's the latest salvo in a case that pitted two development giants against one another over one of the most prized pieces of land in Vancouver.

The long legal battle stems from a fight over whether or not a particular contract was binding.

In a ruling dated Jan. 29 released this week, the court ordered Concord Pacific Group — the plaintiff — to pay 80 per cent of the special costs demanded by site owner Hong Leong Oei. 

The final award has not been tallied, but the claim was for more than $6 million — all this over a trophy site at the heart of Vancouver, that until the 1986 World's Fair, was derelict.

Three years later, Oei purchased part of the site, known then as the Plaza of Nations, for $40 million as a long-term investment.

As of six years ago that same land — now sporting a casino, nightclubs and office space — had an assessed value of $140 million.

In 2017, fencing and wire cut off the public from the northeast end of False Creek, private property that was slated to be developed sometime in the future by the Plaza of Nations' owners. (Peter Scobie/CBC)

In 2015, Oei's company was in discussions with Concord Pacific Acquisitions Inc. about a $500-million plan to redevelop the site, but after an initial agreement — signed in Hong Kong by Concord CEO Terry Hui and Oei — which states that it is "binding" under Hong Kong and Singapore laws, the deal broke down.

'Substantial success,' says site-owner's lawyer

Concord took the matter to B.C. Supreme Court arguing that the initial deal was a binding contract.

In 2019, the court sided with Oei — the site owner — and ruled that evidence brought by Concord, through a witness, was "fabricated."

Based on those findings, this week the court ordered Concord to pay 80 per cent of the special costs requested by Oie's legal team for his companies, Hong Kong Expo Holdings Ltd. and Canadian Metropolitan Properties Corporation.

Special costs are rarely granted but can be when there is behaviour deemed deserving of condemnation or there is some misconduct, according to Oei's Vancouver lawyer Irwin Nathanson.

The Plaza of Nations land, marked as Canadian Metropolitan Properties on map, is one of the last pieces of waterfront property in downtown Vancouver with development potential. The owner says as of 2022 the property is now valued at $800-million. (City of Vancouver)

"It represents very substantial success against Concord Pacific for my client," said Nathanson.

He said that his client's claim for costs topped $6 million, and the exact amount that will now be awarded needs to be calculated.

That will be done in a future hearing before a registrar in the Supreme Court, after all appeals are finished.

Concord Pacific is appealing the 2019 civil trial decision and the case is expected to go to trial later this year.

'I considered his evidence to be egregiously dishonest,' judge says

This week's decision on costs was based on facts determined in the original civil case. The judge in both matters recapped his findings in his ruling that was published Feb. 1 on the B.C. Supreme Court website.

The ruling says the Concord Pacific Group "through its principal witness Mr. (David) Ju, fabricated evidence to advance its claim and gave false testimony in order to mislead the court" to "fill in important gaps in the parties' existing negotiations."

Science World at the end of False Creek on a sunny day in 2020. (Yvette Brend/CBC News Vancouver)

Ju is an independent director and vice president of Concord Pacific, a multi-industry investment group. The recent decision says that Concord's CEO relied on Ju to oversee negotiations over the site. 

But the judge still came down hard on both men.

"This is not a case of my simply failing to accept Mr. Ju's evidence," B.C. Supreme Court Justice Peter Voith wrote in his ruling.

"I considered his evidence to be egregiously dishonest and I am satisfied that its purpose was to mislead the court. I also consider that this dishonesty took multiple forms ... Mr. Ju swore false affidavits, he gave false evidence at his examination for discovery, and he gave false evidence at trial in relation to numerous issues."

In his ruling, Voith says he holds Concord, not just its VP, responsible for providing incorrect information.

 "There were several instances where Mr. Ju and Mr. Hui gave the same evidence and where I concluded that neither had been forthright. There is therefore some basis to infer or conclude that Mr. Hui, Concord's president and CEO, was aware that at least some aspects of Mr. Ju's evidence were not honest." 

In an emailed statement, Concord Pacific Acquisitions Inc. says the decision is flawed.

"We believe this decision is incorrect," it wrote. "It flows from the main case that was decided in 2019 which is currently under appeal."

A notice to appeal the latest decision has also been filed.

Concord Pacific unveiled a clear glass bottom pool more than 60 metres above ground, as part of the new condo building the Arc in Vancouver on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC) (Ben Nelms/CBC)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

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