Prosecutors on Friday asked the Tokyo High Court to fine 23 bridge builders and imprison eight former senior officials accused of rigging bids for bridge construction projects financed by the now-defunct Japan Highway Public Corp. and by the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry.

The prosecutors, in their closing arguments, denounced the defendants, saying they inflated bridge construction costs through the bid-rigging and caused the highway operator and the ministry to lose a combined 10.2 billion yen in fiscal 2003 and fiscal 2004.

The 23 corporate and eight individual defendants have pleaded guilty at the Tokyo High Court to charges of violating the Antimonopoly Law.

There was no district court trial in the case. The Tokyo High Court has been the court of first instance for antitrust cases until last January.

The prosecutors asked that Yokogawa Bridge Corp. and Kawada Industries be given the highest fines, at 800 million yen each.

The prosecution asked that Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries Co. and JFE Engineering Corp. be fined 600 million yen each.

They also suggested fines ranging from 200 million yen to 350 million yen for the remaining 19 firms. Those corporate defendants include Kurimoto Ltd., Takada Kiko Co., TTK Corp., JST Co., Topy Industries Ltd., Komai Tekko Inc., Matsuo Bridge Co., Mitsui Engineering and Shipbuilding Co., Sumitomo Heavy Industries Ltd., Hitachi Zosen Corp., and Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd.

Meanwhile, the prosecution demanded 2 1/2 years in prison for Takashi Yokoyama, 60, formerly of Yokogawa Bridge, and two years for Sozo Kanda, 71, a former board member of the public highway company who was hired as an adviser by Yokogawa Bridge.

For the six other former officials, the prosecutors asked for prison sentences ranging from one to two years. Those defendants are Kenichi Shimizu, 59, of Kawada Industries, Masami Seimiya, 50, of Ishikawajima-Harima, Ryoji Takeda, 56, of Kurimoto, Nobuyuki Hayashi, 57, of Takada Kiko, Hidetaka Nishi, 55, of JFE Engineering, and Shozo Toda, 62, of TTK.

At the court session Friday, the prosecutors said Yokogawa Bridge and Kawada Industries played leading roles in the bid-rigging and enjoyed huge profits from their criminal activities. They also said Yokoyama and Kanda were major figures in the scam.

In addition to this case, there is a separate trial for three other companies and four people as they pleaded not guilty to similar charges.

One of those four people pleading not guilty is Michio Uchida, a former Japan Highway vice president.

Uchida, 61, was arrested last July and charged the following month with violating the Antimonopoly Law and breach of trust. Uchida was fired from Japan Highway last Aug. 22.

The bid-rigging was revealed in October 2004 after Fair Trade Commission searched the offices of some 70 bridge builders.

The FTC sent several criminal complaints to prosecutors, who then indicted the 12 individuals and 26 corporations.

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