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JAPANESE FIRMS OWE $32.7 MILLION IN BID RIGGING

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Ninety-nine Japanese construction companies agreed to pay a total of $32.7 million to the United States to settle charges of bid rigging in the construction of a U.S. Navy base in Yokosuka, Japan, the Justice Department announced Tuesday.

"The precedent set by this settlement gives the United States a powerful weapon in its fight against those who defraud the taxpayer," said Stuart Gerson, assistant attorney general for the department's civil rights division.The case settled by the department's civil and antitrust divisions arose from an investigation by the Naval Investigative Service that in 1987 uncovered evidence of bid rigging by 140 Japanese construction companies over a period of three years.

As a result of the bidding practice known as "dango," the department said, the total construction costs on the project were inflated by at least 25 percent.