• Kyodo

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Three major construction companies being investigated for suspected bid rigging on a magnetically levitated train line project claim they did not engage in any illegal behavior and do not plan to seek leniency in exchange for admitting to the allegation, sources familiar with the matter said Tuesday.

Kajima Corp., Taisei Corp. and Shimizu Corp. concluded after internal investigations that industry consultations they attended regarding the Tokyo-Osaka maglev train project were part of normal business practices and were not illegal.

The deadline for applying for leniency, if acknowledging guilt, is set for Monday. Spokesmen at all three companies declined to comment as the investigation is ongoing.

Obayashi Corp. has told the Japan Fair Trade Commission that it engaged in bid rigging with the three companies, and in doing so may be exempted from punishment and any fine under the commission’s leniency rules.

Under the rules, the company which first acknowledges an antitrust violation to the FTC is exempted from both criminal prosecution and any fine.

Kajima, Taisei and Shimizu found in their own probes that officials at the three companies met and exchanged information about the project. But they appeared to have denied any illegal conduct during questioning by prosecutors on a voluntary basis, saying the activity was part of normal business operations.

There were cases in the past where shareholders sued companies that had been fined for bid rigging for not taking advantage of the leniency rules.

In December a special investigation squad for prosecutors and the FTC searched the headquarters of all four companies on suspicion of violating the antitrust law. Executives have also been questioned.

Investigators have been probing how Japan’s four biggest contractors won 15 of the 24 construction tenders since 2015. The maglev line will connect Tokyo and Osaka, about 500 kilometers west of the capital, in about an hour.

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