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CHIBA--Police on Wednesday arrested Chiba Mayor Keiichi Tsuruoka on suspicion of accepting a 1-million-yen bribe from a construction company vying to win a lucrative road project commissioned by the city.

Because the three-year statute of limitations on giving bribes had expired, no one connected with construction company Azuma Kigyo Co., based in Tokyo's Koto Ward, was arrested.

Chiba prefectural police are working with Tokyo's Metropolitan Police Department on the case. According to the police, Tsuruoka is suspected of helping Azuma Kigyo win the contract for a road expansion project commissioned in October 2005 in Chiba's Inage Ward.

In return, Azuma Kigyo's president and the then-head of the company's Chiba branch visited Tsuruoka at the mayor's office in November 2005 and handed him 1 million yen in cash, sources said.

Tsuruoka has denied receiving the money and said he did not commit any wrongdoing, according to police. He told investigators that he never granted favors to Azuma Kigyo, officials said.

Ten companies submitted bids for the road expansion project. The Chiba city government had set a maximum tax-inclusive project price of 46.38 million yen. Azuma Kigyo won the contract with a bid of 44.83 million yen.

The civil engineering and construction company was awarded other public works projects commissioned by the city of Chiba.

In February 2004, Azuma Kigyo won a contract for a sewage project worth about 166 million yen. In February 2007, the company won a contract for a road project worth about 26 million yen.

In addition, Azuma Kigyo was a member of a consortium including Shimizu Corp. that won a contract in December 2002 for a sewage and waste water facility project worth about 4.378 billion yen.

Officials at the Chiba city government building were caught by surprise when they learned Wednesday morning that police had asked Tsuruoka to submit to questioning about the suspected bribery.

A graduate of the University of Tokyo, Tsuruoka, 68, entered the former Home Affairs Ministry on the elite track for bureaucrats. He was vice mayor of Chiba between April 1994 and October 2000.

Tsuruoka won his first term as Chiba mayor in June 2001 and was re-elected four years later.

Last December, Tsuruoka announced his retirement and said he would not run for a third term in the June 14 election.

Tsuruoka had been criticized by members of opposition parties in the municipal assembly for running up the city's debts by promoting major public works projects.

Tsuruoka put special emphasis on developing the Soga district.

Tsuruoka considered himself more the head of an administrative structure than a politician, observers say. He was not particularly aggressive in local political activities.

A high-ranking official of the city government described Tsuruoka as a "bureaucratic and strong-armed" leader.

The last time a mayor of a major city was arrested in connection with a bribery scandal was in June 1993, when Sendai's mayor was accused of receiving bribes from general contractors.(IHT/Asahi: April 23,2009)



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