OSAKA — Fifteen firms effectively control the repair and maintenance work for Hanshin Expressway Public Corp., even after public bidding was introduced in fiscal 2001 in a bid to end collusion, police sources said Wednesday.

The 15 companies include Kokuyo Construction Co., whose chairman, Masao Yamamoto, 62, was arrested Saturday on suspicion of rigging bids for projects sponsored by the Osaka-based public corporation, the sources said.

Hanshin Expressway Public Corp., funded by the central and local governments, operates a network of elevated toll roads in Osaka and its vicinity.

According to police, the 15 firms in question made successful bids on more than 90 percent of the tenders for work to replace soundproofing panels along expressways. The new bidding system, used to contract projects worth more than 100 million yen, was introduced in April last year to prevent corruption related to public works.

However, of the 39 public tenders made for Hanshin Expressway work in fiscal 2001, 36 were awarded to firms in the group of 15 that employ many former officials of the public corporation, the sources said.

In bidding on one contract in August this year, eight of the 10 participating firms were from the group of 15, the sources said.

Police believe the expressway corporation knew there was collusion among the 15 but looked the other way, the sources said.

The same 15 firms also won more than 95 percent of the bidding for work under the previous system, they said.

On Saturday, police arrested Yasuo Kondo, 55, deputy manager of the corporation’s Osaka administrative department; Yorimichi Maekawa, 59, the corporation’s former Kobe Construction Bureau chief; Kokuyo Kensetsu’s Yamamoto; and Akira Tanimoto, 56, a business department manager of Kokuyo affiliate Kyodai Construction. The four are suspected of colluding to rig bids.

Maekawa and Kondo chose nine firms that were in business fields similar to Kyodai Construction but not really interested in bidding for the soundproofing work on the expressway’s Higashi-Osaka section, the sources said.

The nine allegedly chose to give a semblance of competition in the bidding, which took place on Dec. 27, 1999, under the old system.

Maekawa and the others arranged the bid-rigging and informed Kyodai Construction of the expected contract price, the sources said.

As a result, Kyodai Construction won the bid for 171 million yen, which was about 98 percent of the corporation’s estimated price, they said.

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