Croatia rejects complaints on $346 mln bridge tender won by Chinese

ZAGREB, March 26 (Reuters) - Croatia on Monday rejected complaints by Austrian construction company Strabag and Italian firm Astaldi that a Chinese consortium which won a tender to build a $346 million bridge submitted a bid that was unusually cheap.

Strabag and a consortium between Astaldi and Turkey’s IC Ictas also said the Chinese bid may have had state support not allowed in the European Union.

“In the complaint procedure it was not proved that the chosen bidder used the state subsidy nor that it offered a dumping price,” Croatia’s state commission for public procurement said in its ruling.

In January, Croatia chose a Chinese consortium to build a 2,400-metre bridge to connect the mainland with its most southern region for 2.08 billion kuna ($346.43 million).

The consortium, which includes China Road & Bridge Corp., CCCC Highway Consultants Co Ltd and CCCC Second Harbour Engineering Co Ltd, submitted the lowest bid and said it would complete the project in 36 months.

Strabag’s offer amounted to 2.6 billion kuna and that of Astaldi and its Turkish partner was worth 2.5 billion kuna.

The European Commission agreed last year to fund 85 percent of the project, with Croatia providing the rest.

Croatia, an EU member since 2013, sees the project and the resulting territorial continuity as necessary to enter the EU’s Schengen zone, where passport checks are not required.

At the moment, the only road connection between mainland Croatia and its far south - including the popular tourist destination of Dubrovnik - passes through neighbouring Bosnia.

Two other bidders can now only seek to annul the ruling in a court procedure.

$1 = 6.0041 kuna Reporting by Igor Ilic Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg