MMC, former executives plead not guilty

Defendants claim they didn't fake reports on defects that proved fatal

Kyodo

Mitsubishi Motors Corp. and three of its former executives pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges of falsifying reports submitted to authorities on defective wheel hubs that caused a fatal accident in Yokohama in January 2002.

The Yokohama Summary Court opened the first in a series of trials on the criminal liability of the scandal-ridden MMC and its executives, as well as former executives of Mitsubishi Fuso Truck & Bus Corp., which was spun off last year from MMC. DaimlerChrysler AG holds a stake of about 25 percent in MMC.

The three defendants are former Mitsubishi Fuso Chairman Takashi Usami, 64, former MMC Managing Director Akio Hanawa, 63, and former Mitsubishi Fuso Executive Officer Tadashi Koshikawa, 61.

“There was no falsification in the reports and no coverups were conducted,” Usami told the court, although he apologized for the accidents caused by the defects. “We studied (the matter) technically and took the appropriate measures.”

Hanawa and Koshikawa also said they agreed with Usami.

They are among a group of eight, including former MMC President Katsuhiko Kawasoe, 67, charged with covering up defects that are believed to have caused two fatal accidents in 2002.

The alleged coverup took place before the Road Trucking Vehicle Law was revised to drastically stiffen penalties for falsifying reports on defects submitted to authorities.

Summary proceedings without public hearings are typically employed when the maximum penalty is a fine.

The defendants could face a maximum fine of 200,000 yen if found guilty.

For this case, however, the prosecutors demanded a public trial on grounds that it was a “malicious case where (the company) shifted the blame to users.”

According to the indictment, Usami and the other defendants stand accused of concealing defects in a report submitted to the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry in February 2002, one month after the fatal accident in Yokohama, in which a wheel came off a Mitsubishi tractor-trailer rig and hit and killed a 29-year-old woman and injured her two young children.

While the durability of MMC hubs was called into question at the time, the maker reported to the transport ministry that accidents can be prevented if hubs with 0.8 mm or more of wear were replaced.

Prosecutors charged that while the ministry “strongly suggested” to MMC that it recall its vehicles with the same type of hubs, Usami ordered his subordinates to cover up the defects “to avoid a recall at any cost.”

Hanawa stands accused of taking the initiative in concluding — without a probe — that the Yokohama accident had been caused by improper maintenance by the user. Usami later approved this position at a company meeting.

Separately, Kawasoe, Usami and two others have also been charged with professional negligence in connection with a fatal accident in Yamaguchi Prefecture in October 2002 that involved a defective clutch.

The defects are believed to have caused the accident, in which a drive shaft on a truck fell off while it was on a highway in Yamaguchi Prefecture, disabling the brakes. The 9-ton truck passed through an expressway tollgate and slammed into a building, killing its 39-year-old driver.

As of July 16, Japanese corporate revival fund Phoenix Capital Co. was the largest shareholder in MMC, with an equity stake of 33.28 percent, replacing DaimlerChrysler AG, which held 24.66 percent.