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After arresting an Osaka man Tuesday on suspicion of bribing a municipal official, investigators were forced to release him just hours later when they realized the statute of limitations on the case had expired.

The 65-year-old head of a civil engineering firm in Naniwa Ward was arrested on suspicion of paying some 30 million yen in bribes to an Osaka municipal official in connection with a scandal-hit city waste incinerator contract.

However, special investigators with the Osaka District Public Prosecutor’s Office later announced they had released the man because the three-year statute of limitations on the case had expired. They said they had mistakenly calculated the length of time the man had been overseas since the alleged act took place. The statute of limitations is suspended during such periods.

The man allegedly paid the bribes to Eiji Tashiro, a senior official with the city’s Environmental Management Bureau.

Tashiro, 60, has already been indicted for accepting bribes from a plumbing firm in connection with the contract and was served a fresh warrant Tuesday for allegedly taking the 30 million yen. The statute of limitations for taking a bribe is five years. Investigators said they suspect Tashiro may have collected some 40 million yen in bribes altogether.

According to an investigation, Tashiro received 30 million yen in cash from the company president some time around July 13, 2000, as a token of appreciation for providing information that helped then NKK Corp. in being chosen to build the incinerator in Hirano Ward. NKK Corp. is now known as JFE Engineering Corp.

The man’s engineering firm had signed a contract with NKK in which it promised to cooperate in getting it the deal.

Most of the 30 million yen remains in a bank account in Tashiro’s name, and investigators are trying to determine where the remainder went.

NKK was declared the winner of the incinerator contract in December 1996. At the time, Tashiro was a senior member of the secretariat for a committee that handled the selection process.

Tashiro has been charged with receiving 11 million yen in bribes from the 68-year-old president of Shinko Denki Kogyosho in return for getting NKK to agree to subcontract the plumbing work for the project to the firm.