Mitsubishi Motors Executives Cleared Over Defect Report

Found not guilty of falsifying government report.

Mitsubishi Motors and three of its former top executives were found not guilty Dec. 13 of falsifying a report to the government on a truck defect that caused a fatal accident. The Yokohama Summary Court cleared Takashi Usami, 66, the former chairman of Mitsubishi's truck making division, and two other former officials, Akio Hanawa, 65, and Tadashi Koshikawa, 64, who was in charge of quality control.

Mitsubishi submitted the report to the government after a 29-year-old mother died and her two sons were injured by a tire that came flying off a Mitsubishi trailer truck in the city of Yokohama, west of Tokyo in January 2002.

Prosecutors had argued that the former executives knew that faulty wheel hubs might have caused the accident but they and the company decided to hide the fact in their report to the government. The defendants denied the charges, saying that they had not received a formal request from the transportation ministry for a report on the incident, an argument accepted by Judge Hiroshi Kojima. They also argued that insufficient maintenance was to blame.

The transport ministry, which had pushed for the indictment of the company and the executives, described the ruling as "extremely regrettable."

The truck and bus division, which was spun off into Mitsubishi Fuso in January 2003, admitted in March 2004 that a faulty wheel hub may have caused the 2002 fatal accident, and announced a recall of 112,000 vehicles.

Mitsubishi Motors has been struggling to return to profit following years of slumping sales caused by a series of defect cover-up scandals that required a massive bailout of the heavily-indebted company in 2004. In April Mitsubishi Motors was ordered by a Yokohama District Court to pay 5.5 million yen (US$47,000) in damages to relatives of victims of the January 2002 fatal accident. In a separate incident in October 2002 a 39-year-old driver was killed at Yamaguchi in western Japan after losing control of his truck, allegedly due to a faulty clutch mechanism. In 2000, Mitsubishi Motors admitted to keeping the transport ministry in the dark about at least 64,000 complaints filed by car owners dating back to 1977.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2006

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