Wed, Mar 15, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Three Japanese officials charged

BID-RIGGING SCANDAL Two senior engineering officials and the head of a separate government-affiliated organization are suspected of conspiring with manufacturers

AP , TOKYO

Three Japanese defense officials at the center of a bid-rigging scandal were slapped with additional charges yesterday in connection with construction projects at two US military bases, officials said.

The projects at Sasebo and Iwakuni bases were worth ¥18 billion (US$152 million), Defense Facilities Administration Agency spokesman Akio Watai said.

Tokyo prosecutors charged two senior engineering officials at the facilities agency -- Mamoru Ikezawa and Takayoshi Kawano, both 57 -- and Takashige Matsuda, 53, the head of a separate government-affiliated organization, Watai said.

He said the three conspired with manufacturers in eight construction projects at two US bases -- five related to runway relocation and ground improvement at Iwakuni and two involving seawalls at Sasebo -- as well as a separate construction project at the defense facility agency's Ichigaya complex in Tokyo, in fiscal 2004 and 2005.

Japan is home to about 50,000 US troops under a bilateral security treaty.

Tokyo District Prosecutors' Office said in a statement that the officials leaked information to the eight construction companies -- many of them Japan's leading construction giants -- in advance so that they could place the most desirable bids.

Officials from eight companies -- Kajima Corp, Toa Corp, Tekken Corp, Taisei Corp, Obayashi Corp, Penta Ocean Construction Co, Shimizu Corp and Nissan Rinkai Construction Co -- also faced fresh charges in the case, the prosecutors said.

Public broadcaster NHK said that the three defense officials acknowledged that bid rigging for defense projects has lasted 40 years.

The officials, arrested in January, were charged last month with conspiring with manufacturers to rig bids to install air conditioning systems at defense facilities between November 2004 and March last year.

"We apologize to the people for causing the grave situation," Defense Facilities Administration Agency chief Iwao Kitahara said in a statement.

"We will do our utmost so that we can recover the public's trust as soon as possible," he added.

The case is the latest in a series of bid-rigging scandals to surface in recent months. Japan has long been criticized for the practice, widespread in public works projects, which virtually shuts out foreign bidders.

Last month, two former officials of the state-owned operator of Narita International Airport pleaded guilty to bid-rigging in electrical construction projects, according to news reports.

Iwakuni, home to a US air station, is about 700km southwest of Tokyo. Sasebo is on the southern main island of Kyushu and is a site of a major US naval base.

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