Staff at a HKT telephone exchange suspected to be in breach of land lease were taught how to cheat a prearranged government inspection, secret audio shows.
In an audio recording leaked to FactWire, an HKT manager is heard admitting that some offices in its Ngau Tau Kok Engineering Centre were knowingly operating in violation of lease conditions, before telling her staff to remove incriminating items ahead of a visit yesterday by Lands Department officers.
Following a FactWire investigation in March revealing that the telecom giant had, for years, been misusing its utility facilities for commercial use – in part thanks to advance notifications of government inspections – the new leak raises further doubts about the Lands Department’s lacklustre efforts to enforce lease terms.
Speaking to more than one hundred sales representatives on Thursday last week, the manager said the property could not be used for the company’s mobile, pay TV and broadband services, adding that the Lands Department had already visited other telephone exchanges owned by HKT following FactWire’s reporting in March.
In a relaxed tone, she then went on and told the staff how they could dupe the government inspectors by hiding any notices, documents, work uniforms and promotional materials that bore the logo of CSL, the company’s mobile business.
She then showed photos of each and every item that should be removed and packed into cardboard boxes prepared by the company.
‘It’s particularly dangerous here, because we have close to a hundred sales staff and many documents,’ the manager said.
‘But you don’t have to worry,’ she added, ‘(the Lands Department inspectors) won’t come to your desk and touch your personal belongings. Just turn over things like sales agreements and memos.’
In the ten-minute meeting, the sales staff were explicitly told to not come back to the building after 1pm yesterday, as the government inspection would begin from the tenth floor at 2pm before moving down to the ground floor.
They were also told to complete the preparations before an internal check scheduled on Monday.
The land lease of the HKT engineering centre in Kowloon Bay stipulates that the ten-storey premises can only be used as a telephone exchange, workshops and their ancillary offices, as well as staff accommodation.
However, a source told FactWire that the ninth and tenth floors, with a total area of near 8,000 sq ft, had respectively been used as an office for PCCW Mobile – the predecessor of CSL – since 2007 and a sales office for the HKT-owned internet service provider Netvigator.
Comparisons between photos provided by the source and that from visits by FactWire in September last year and in the past week show that, prior to Lands Department inspection yesterday, an office sign that indicates ‘direct sales and specialty shops’ and a sheet with sales performance rankings have both been removed from the tenth floor.
Leaked photos also show salespeople, in CSL uniforms, working next to shelves stacked with boxes of smartphones and accessories on the ninth floor.
Additionally, HKT has a call centre on the first to second floors for its outsourcing clients including McDonald’s and Cathay Pacific, and another call centre on the third to fifth floors for its broadband and pay-TV services.
FactWire waited outside the Ngau Tau Kok building yesterday but could not confirm whether the Lands Department inspection took place.
When asked about the visit, a HKT staff member only responded by asking: ‘how do you know?’, before saying all enquiries should be directed to the company’s public relations team.
The Lands Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.