• Kyodo

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Osaka prosecutors Tuesday searched the offices of two companies, a government ministry, a semigovernmental body and a municipal government to investigate allegations of bid-rigging in a sewage treatment plant project in Hannan, Osaka Prefecture.

Prosecutors searched the Osaka branch of Ebara Corp. and Hitachi Zosen Corp. Also searched were the Japan Environmental Sanitation Center, an organization in Kawasaki affiliated with the Environment Ministry, and the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry — which was assigned to planning the construction of the plant and operating it — and the Hannan Municipal Government office.

Ebara’s Osaka branch won the bid in February 2005 for 2.04 billion yen, or 94.8 percent of the maximum contract price set by authorities for the project, which was ordered by the city of Hannan.

Investigators said 11 major plant-engineering firms had planned to bid on the project but three companies, including Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., withdrew.

Hannan received a tip about bid-rigging but could not confirm any illicit activity and went ahead with the contract.

The Fair Trade Commission is also probing suspected bid-rigging for sewage projects ordered by municipal governments nationwide.

The FTC has questioned companies active in plant engineering work over the Hannan project and some firms have admitted to involvement in bid-rigging.