a bridge too far: four years’ jail for ‘Sichuan Road & Bridge representative’ in Hålogaland bridge deal

A Chinese engineer who helped Sichuan Road and Bridge Group (SRBG, 四川路桥) win a tender to build the steelwork for a large bridge in Norway has been found guilty of embezzlement and sentenced to four years’ imprisonment by a German court, the Saarbrücker Zeitung reports.

As I’ve been repeating for a year now, SRBG won that tender in some sort of partnership with DSD, a German based group of companies with extensive experience in bridge building. Only that partnership was remarkably little talked about, and its nature remained unpublicised: the steelwork contract had been awarded to SRBG together with a little-known Serbian company somehow connected to a local DSD subsidiary. The nature of this partnership, it would now seem, wasn’t entirely clear to DSD themselves.

He Saizhong, a Chinese engineer who worked with DSD for years, was involved in preparing the Hålogaland bid for DSD, but then presented it as including SRBG and the Serbian company as bidders, with DSD only as a subcontractor and a company run by his and his accomplice’s wives in charge of managing the project, it emerged during the trial. Through this clever bypass operation, Mr He and his partner caused DSD large losses, though they claimed they weren’t motivated purely by greed but by a “fascination with bridge building“.

Back when the contract was signed, an announcement on the website of Statens vegvesen, Norway’s public road administration, had shown a picture of a radiant He Saizhong, captioned as a “representative from SRBG”.

The Hålogaland bridge, under construction in Narvik, a couple hundred kilometres into the Arctic circle, is to be the second longest suspension bridge in Norway. It’s the first project of its kind for a Chinese company in the area, and SRBG’s first contract in Europe, which it won by offering just 2.5% less than the second cheapest bidder, MT Højgaard from Denmark.

While their activities abroad are not that important (their most significant operations have been in Eritrea, Tanzania and the Federated States of Micronesia; a Russian foray might be in the works), SRBG have built some of the largest bridges in China, including for example the Xihoumen 西堠门 joining Zhoushan to the mainland and the Jingyue 荆岳 over the Yangtze in Hubei.

They also have a less stellar side though. In my 2013 article I detailed how, while their own bridges seem to fail quite seldom and under arguably exceptional circumstances, Chuanjiao (四川川交路桥有限责任公司), a company related to SRBG and with which it shared some of its top management at the moment, was responsible for a bridge that suffered a tragic collapse during construction in May last year.

Corruption isn’t unknown to them either. In 2008, a manager with SRBG admitted to bribing an official to help the company win the tender to build the Xinlongmen 新龙门 bridge near Chongqing. More recently, Huang Jinping 黄金平, who used to be a vice-general manager at SRBG and chairman at Chuanjiao, was reported to be under investigation for ‘serious discipline violations’, usually a euphemism for corruption.

At the moment there’s no indication of the German process affecting the project in Norway in any way, of course as long as they can go on without Mr He’s expertise.

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Sichuan Road & Bridge in Tanzania

This isn’t particularly recent, but I thought today would be as good a slow news day as any to mention a contract won late last year by Sichuan Road and Bridge Group (SRBG, 四川路桥集团) to build 65km of roads in Tanzania. A number of such contracts, mostly funded by the African Development Bank and the Japan International Cooperation Agency, have been awarded to Chinese companies in Tanzania, first in November and then again in February. Other than SRBG, the contractors include CHICO (中国河南国际合作集团), Powerchina (中国水电建设集团) and CCECC (中国土木工程集团). SRBG’s task will be to pave a road leading up to the (also Chinese-built) Unity Bridge over the Rovuma River, the border with Mozambique.

This was SRBG’s main foreign contract abroad last year, other than the steelwork for the Hålogaland bridge in Narvik, northern Norway.