The transport ministry on Friday asked the Tokyo District Court to impose an administrative fine on Mitsubishi Motors Corp. for violating the Road Trucking Vehicle Law by covering up defects in the clutch housings of its large vehicles.

It is the third time for the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry to seek fines on automakers with regard to vehicle recalls, following cases involving Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. in 1997 and MMC again in 2000.

Under the law, automakers are obliged to report to the ministry and announce recalls if their vehicles are found to have design flaws or manufacturing defects that could lead to accidents.

But MMC failed to recall the trucks even though it was aware of the clutch housing structural defects in the 1990s and was secretly repairing some of the large vehicles, the ministry officials said.

On Thursday, former MMC executives, including former President Katsuhiko Kawasoe, were arrested for professional negligence that resulted in a fatal accident in Yamaguchi Prefecture in 2002.

However, the fine being sought for MMC is a mere 200,000 yen — the maximum fine that could be imposed before the penalties were increased in a legal amendment in January 2003 — because the automaker’s suspected violation took place in May 1996, ministry officials said.

Under the revised law, automakers can be fined up to 200 million yen for hiding safety defects and failing to recall the deficient vehicles.

The 2003 revision, prompted by a separate MMC recall scandal that surfaced in 2000, also created provisions for a maximum prison term of one year and a maximum fine of 3 million yen for individuals tied to defect coverups.

In 2000, it was revealed that MMC had systematically concealed customer complaints of safety defects for nearly 30 years.