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U.S. FILES LAWSUIT ACCUSING JAPANESE FIRMS OF BID-RIGGING

The United States sued a group of Japanese companies for $5.4 million Friday, accusing them of jacking up prices on construction projects at a U.S. naval base through bid-rigging.

The Tokyo District Court said the suit targets 53 construction companies that bid on a total of 77 projects at the Atsugi Naval Air Facility near Tokyo between 1983 and 1990.The United States has charged that the firms engaged in "dango," or bid-rigging discussions, a common practice in Japan's construction industry.

In March, the U.S. Justice Department complained to the Japanese government and sought $11.1 million in damages from a total of 72 Japanese companies.

In August, Washington proposed a settlement under which companies that won Atsugi contracts would pay back 22.4 percent of their successful bid price. Other companies that took part in the bidding were asked to pay $5,000 per bid.

Some of the companies have settled, while most rejected the proposal.

"There was no dango, so we cannot accept any settlement," a spokesman for one of the firms, Isoichi Kubota of Maeda Corp., said Friday.

In 1989, 99 Japanese companies paid the U.S. government $32.7 million to settle charges that they similarly inflated construction costs at Yokosuka, another U.S. naval base near Tokyo.