5 Firms Searched over Alleged Bid-Rigging in COVID Project

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The Fair Trade Commission

TOKYO (Jiji Press)— The Fair Trade Commission on Wednesday searched locations related to five travel agencies for allegedly rigging bids in a COVID-19-related project by the city of Aomori, people familiar with the matter told Jiji Press.

The locations searched on suspicion of violating the antimonopoly law included the Aomori offices of Kinki Nippon Tourist Co., JTB Corp., the Tohoku unit of Nippon Travel Agency Co., Meitetsu World Travel Inc. and Tobu Top Tours Co.

It was the first time for the FTC to launch on-site inspections over a COVID-19-related public project.

The Aomori office of Kinki Nippon Tourist won all contracts in five rounds of bidding conducted by the city between April 2022 and March 2023 for the project to transport COVID-19 patients to accommodation facilities.

Branch manager-class officials from the five firms got together to discuss tender prices beforehand and make sure that Kinki Nippon Tourist wins the bids, the people familiar with the matter said.

Kinki Nippon Tourist is believed to have assigned work to the other firms as subcontractors after winning the contracts. The companies are believed to have engaged in bid-rigging to secure work as they struggled with plunging travel demand due to the pandemic.

An official at Kinki Nippon Tourist said that the firm has been searched by the FTC and that it will fully cooperate with the investigation.