The Tokyo District Court sentenced two Mitsui & Co. employees Tuesday to suspended one-year prison terms for rigging bids for a project that used official aid money.

Masahide Iino, 44, and Yusuke Shimazaki, 39, were convicted of working with a Foreign Ministry official to eliminate rivals in the March 2000 bidding for the construction of a diesel power plant on Kunashiri Island, one of the islands off Hokkaido that are held by Russia and are the focus of a bilateral territory dispute.

Both defendants, whose sentences were suspended for three years, had admitted to the charges.

The ministry official, Masaru Sato, 43, had close ties to scandal-tainted House of Representatives lawmaker Muneo Suzuki and was also indicted in connection with the diesel plant case.

He was later dismissed from the ministry, but has denied any guilt in connection with the bidding scam, claiming in court that he was involved “only to the extent allowed for civil servants.”

However, in Tuesday’s ruling, presiding Judge Nobuyuki Kiguchi called Sato and the two employees of the major trading house coconspirators.

“Even before this incident, the parties involved had to some extent acted to restrict competition among firms in the bidding for projects related to official development assistance,” the judge noted.

He also said the defendants pressured other parties to give up bidding for the power plant project by playing up their links with Suzuki, who wielded strong power over the Foreign Ministry.

“This was a clever and malicious crime, and even when background circumstances (such as traditional practices within the industry) are taken into consideration, (the defendants’) responsibility is grave,” Kiguchi said.

Iino, Shimazaki and Sato rigged the bid for the plant project, approaching two other trading firms and getting them to back down, the court said. Sato also furnished the Mitsui pair with such information as the calculated price of the project prior to bidding.

Mitsui won the contract with a bid price that was slightly lower than the one budgeted. The tender was conducted by a Foreign Ministry-affiliated international committee on aid for the Russian-held islands.

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