After 7 years, the legal fight between Concord Pacific Acquisitions and Canadian Metropolitan Properties over Vancouver's Plaza of Nations has come to a quiet end.
Singaporean billionaire Oei Hong Leong purchased the Plaza of Nations -- the outdoor area located between BC Place and the Harbour Convention Centre now called the Expo Gardens -- in 1989 for about $40 million.
On May 14, 2015, Oei, 74, and his company, Canadian Metropolitan Properties, reached an agreement with Concord Pacific Acquisitions that would have seen Oei sell 50% of shares in the property to Concord for $500 million and the two companies jointly develop the site. According to City of Vancouver documents, the proposal for the mixed-use site included "community and civic facilities", a "music presentation centre", an ice rink, and residential buildings.
However, Oei backed out of the initial agreement, and Concord Pacific filed a civil suit, arguing that Oei had acted in bad faith and that their initial agreement with him was legally-binding. (According to court documents, the agreement, between Oei himself and President of Concord Pacific Terry Hui, was just two pages.) That started a back-and-forth between the two companies that traversed multiple levels of courts.
In 2019, the Supreme Court of British Columbia dismissed Concord's claim, with Justice Peter Voith singling out one of Concord's witnesses, Concord's Vice President David Ju. Voith wrote that he found Ju to be "egregiously dishonest", "swore false affidavits", "gave false evidence at his examination for discovery", and "gave false evidence at trial in relation to numerous issues." The ruling also ordered Concord to pay Oei $5 million.
Concord appealed the ruling, which was then upheld earlier this year when the British Columbia Court of Appeal dismissed Concord's appeal.
A core issue for Concord was that the initial $10 million Concord paid as a deposit was not returned. According to a 2021 judgment by Justice Voith, Concord argued that “defendants held onto the $10 million for over five years” and that Concord was “forced to trial to seek its recovery.” Voith, however, said "This is not so. So long as Concord sought specific performance of the agreement it alleged it had made with the defendants, it was not open to it to seek the return of the $10 million deposit." In other words, Concord cannot seek Oei to follow through on their initial agreement and seek their $10 million deposit back simultaneously.
In the Court of Appeal ruling dismissing Concord, Justice David Harris concluded that the initial agreement Oei backed out of "was not a binding and enforceable agreement because it lacked essential terms."
One member of the three-person Court of Appeal panel, however, Justice Stromberg‑Stein, dissented. Stromberg-Stein wrote that the majority's ruling that the initial agreement was non-binding "could have an enormous impact on the business community. Parties working on complex, multi‑million/billion‑dollar, multi‑year deals often start with a narrow contract that contemplates future incremental contracts. The majority’s decision in this case could render such agreements, which serve a vital commercial purpose, meaningless or, at the very least, uncertain, and frustrate complex deals or arrangements."
Oei and his companies, Canadian Metropolitan Properties and Hong Kong Expo Holdings, also filed a countersuit against Concord's Hui, claiming abuse of the legal process. According to Bloomberg, Oei and Hui's ties extended beyond business and this deal, as Oei was friends with Hui's father.
Concord then brought the case to the Supreme Court of Canada. This past week, however, the Supreme Court announced that it would not hear the dispute. The Supreme Court of Canada did not cite a reason, as it is not required to do so, which means the original ruling by the Supreme Court of British Columbia stands.
Oei has carried on with his own plans to develop the Expo Gardens, which is currently in the permitting process with the City of Vancouver. The property is now worth an estimated $800 million.
The Plaza of Nations was one of the sites of Expo 86, along with Canada Place, BC Place, and Science World. It sits along the northeast shore of False Creek. Its neighbour further along the shore? Concord Pacific.
This story has been updated to include details concerning Concord's $10 million depositand Justice Stromberg-Stein's dissent.