Five Harbert construction companies, most of which reportedly are defunct, have agreed to pay $47 million to the U.S. government to settle allegations of bid-rigging on a U.S. Agency for International Development-funded sewer system project in Egypt built more than 15 years ago, the Justice Dept. said.

The Justice Dept. said on March 20 that Harbert Corp., Harbert International Inc., Bill Harbert International Constructions Inc., Harbert Construction Services (U.K.) Ltd. and Bilhar International Establishment agreed to make the payment to resolve allegations under the False Claims Act that they conspired to rig bids on a project in Cairo.

The sewer system project went to bid and was constructed in the late 1980s and early 1990s, according to the Justice Dept.

Harbert International Inc. was part of a joint venture that was awarded the contract. The U.S. alleged that the Harbert companies reached agreements with other potential bidders to make sure the Harbert joint venture would win the job.

The U.S. contends that the other possible bidders agreed intentionally to bid high or not to submit bids, in exchange for a payoff.

The allegations initially were made in a 1995 lawsuit filed in federal district court in Washington, D.C., by a whistleblower, Richard F. Miller.

The  Justice Dept. says that the claims against Harbert Corp., Harbert International Inc., and Bill Harbert International Constructions Inc. settled under the agreement are allegations only and no detemination of liability has been made.

Michael G. Carroll, USAID acting inspector general, said, “It’s been a very long road to justice in this case. We are pleased that it has ended with this significant recovery of taxpayer funds.”

The Birmingham News reported that most of the Harbert companies Justice cited in its statement are defunct.

Those entities also “are not directly related” to B.L Harbert International LLC, a major construction contractor based in Birmingham, Ala., says Missy Heard, director of marketing for that company.