The Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry took disciplinary action Tuesday against Hokkaido Development Bureau officials for arranging for certain construction firms to rig bids in 1997 and 1998, including one company that allegedly offered bribes to Lower House member Muneo Suzuki in 1998.

The ministry thus effectively admitted that the bureau officials played key roles in systematically rigging supposedly open competitive bids for port-related public works projects in Hokkaido, but only took action after prosecutors revealed the wrongdoing during Suzuki’s trial.

In an unprecedented move, the ministry also asked two retired senior officials at the bureau’s port department to return part of their retirement money, although the request has no compulsory power because the officials are no longer public servants.

Former local port department chief Shichiro Goto, who allegedly played a key role in the bid-rigging, was asked to return 3.56 million yen, and Tatsuo Sakuma, former port construction section chief, was asked to pay back 1.15 million yen.

The ministry reduced the salaries of nine officials at the bureau by 10 percent for two months, and Michio Hirao, the current head of the bureau and then head of a regional development section in Muroran, eastern Hokkaido, was reprimanding for his supervisory shortcomings.

According to the ministry, officials of the Hokkaido bureau drew up a list of companies that they wanted to win bids for local port-related projects for fiscal 1997 and 1998, if not for other years.

The bureau gave the list to a local construction industry association, urging it to rig bids among its members to favor the listed bidders.

In 1997, Suzuki repeatedly asked Goto to have construction firm Shimada Kensetsu, which allegedly offered bribes to Suzuki, included on the list for fiscal 1998, according to the ministry.

In response to Suzuki’s request, Goto chose nine port-related works projects for Shimada and added the firm to the list. Shimada won all of them in the bids held March 5 and April 28 in 1998, the ministry said.

The land ministry owned up to those facts only after prosecutors, in their statement during Suzuki’s Nov. 11 trial session before the Tokyo District Court, pointed out that officials of the Hokkaido bureau helped rig the bids for Suzuki.

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