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Asian Antitrust

The Saitama Saturday Club Case: Political Meddling, Public Opinion, and Antitrust Enforcement in Japan at a Turning Point

Simon Vande Walle, Landmark Competition Law Cases - Around the World in Fourteen Stories 183-202, Barry Rodger ed., Kluwer Law International, 2013.

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This paper tells the story of the Saitama Saturday Club case and how it changed antitrust enforcement in Japan. Although the case is often cited as an example of failed antitrust enforcement, in fact, the case had a lasting and positive impact in many unexpected ways.

The case opposed Japan’s antitrust enforcement agency against the country’s mighty construction industry. For years, the construction companies had rigged bids for thousands of public works in Saitama Prefecture, in clear violation of Japan’s Antimonopoly Act. Yet they escaped relatively scot-free, as the Japan Fair Trade Commission decided not to bring criminal charges and instead handled the case with a trifle administrative penalty.

But this docile treatment triggered a public backlash. Angry citizens sued the bid-riggers for damages, an unprecedented move that would subsequently be replicated in over eighty other cases throughout Japan. More broadly, the case heightened public awareness of the pernicious nature of bid-rigging and galvanized popular support for more robust antitrust enforcement. In turn, this support enabled the Japan Fair Trade Commission to move against entrenched interests and, in the years that followed, gradually step up enforcement, an evolution that continues to this day. In this sense, the Saitama Saturday Club case constituted a turning point for antitrust enforcement in Japan.

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