• Kyodo

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Prosecutors are investigating the mayor of Hirakata, Osaka Prefecture, over his alleged role in rigging bids in 2005 for a garbage incinerator plant project that was awarded to a consortium led by scandal-tainted contractor Obayashi Corp.

More than two dozen reporters rushed to Hiroshi Nakatsuka’s home in the morning anticipating his arrest after he canceled a scheduled business trip to Tokyo for reasons that were not announced. However, no warrant had been issued.

A special squad of the Osaka District Public Prosecutor’s Office suspects Nakatsuka, 51, had informed Deputy Mayor Takatsune Kobori, 60, of Obayashi Corp.’s intentions.

Such intent was conveyed to Kobori by Koshiro Hirahara, a 47-year-old Osaka Prefectural Police assistant inspector dubbed the “broker” between city officials and construction firms in the Osaka area, the sources said, adding that both Kobori and Hirahara are under arrest.

Hirahara, who was highly experienced in investigating corruption and bid-rigging, is believed to have used his expertise for his own interests, investigative sources said.

Prosecutors on Monday arrested Osaka Prefectural Assembly member Toyosaburo Hatsuda, 49, and former Obayashi adviser Masaaki Yamamoto, 71, for allegedly conspiring to rig bids for the municipal project. The latest arrests brought the number of suspects held in the case to 10.

Suspicion over Hatsuda surfaced after Takehito Matsuyama, 65, president of contractor Hagoromo-gumi, who was arrested earlier, said he paid 30 million yen to Hatsuda. The prosecutors may also open a bribery investigation, the sources said.

Hatsuda was a Hirakata Municipal Assembly member and Yamamoto an Obayashi adviser when they allegedly conspired with Obayashi adviser Shigeo Morii, 63, to rig bids for the November 2005 project to build the incinerator plant in favor of a joint venture between Obayashi and Asanuma Corp.

Hatsuda and Yamamoto have owned up to the wrongdoing, the sources said.

Hatsuda allegedly dined with Nakatsuka, Hirahara and Morii before tendering their bids. After Obayashi won the bid, Hatsuda allegedly demanded 2 percent, or 110 million yen, of the total order as a kickback but settled for 30 million yen via the mediation of Matsuyama, the investigative sources said.

Hatsuda was first elected to the Hirakata assembly in 1995. He was elected three times and served as deputy speaker for one year from 2003. He was elected to the prefectural assembly in April on the Liberal Democratic Party ticket.

Hatsuda and Nakatsuka are believed to have known each other and had close ties before the latter became mayor.

Obayashi’s Yamamoto, considered the Kansai region’s construction czar, is believed to have instructed Morii and others to coordinate among construction firms in apparent efforts to rig bids.

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