National

MMC execs charged in '02 fatal truck crash

Kyodo

Former Mitsubishi Motors Corp. President Katsuhiko Kawasoe and three others were charged Thursday with negligence resulting in a fatal accident in 2002 involving a truck built by the automaker, prosecutors said.

The indictment comes as the detention period for Kawasoe, 67; Yuzo Murata, 66, former director of MMC; Takashi Usami, 63, former vice president of MMC and former chairman of Mitsubishi Fuso Truck & Bus Corp.; and Tatsuro Nakagami, 61, former executive director, expired that day. The four were arrested June 10.

The four were top brass at MMC in 2000, when the company was found to have covered up vehicle defects that would have necessitated recalls. The Yokohama District Public Prosecutor’s Office believes they are criminally responsible for authorizing the concealment of defects in MMC vehicles even after the coverup scandal broke, sources said.

Two other MMC officials were also arrested, but prosecutors decided not to indict them, judging their involvement in the case did not warrant further action against.

According to the indictment, MMC was aware in May 1996 that there was a structural defect in the clutch mechanism of some of its trucks, but decided against issuing a formal recall.

When the coverup surfaced in 2000, the then Transport Ministry ordered the automaker to come clean and report all defects in its vehicles. However, Kawasoe and the three others decided to conceal the clutch defect and failed to take remedial steps.

This, prosecutors say, resulted in the accident on Oct. 19, 2002, when a truck’s drive shaft fell off while it was on a highway in Yamaguchi Prefecture, disabling the brake. The 9-ton truck passed through an expressway tollgate and slammed into a building, killing the 39-year-old driver.

Usami has already been charged with Road Trucking Vehicle Law violations and professional negligence resulting in death and injury in connection with a fatal accident in Yokohama in 2002. In the Yokohama incident, a 29-year-old woman died after being struck down by a tire that had come off a Mitsubishi-made truck. She had been walking along a street with her two sons, who were also injured.

The spate of scandals prompted MMC to announce last month remedial measures, including recalls that will affect some 154,000 cars. Meanwhile, Mitsubishi Fuso said it will take such steps for about 525,000 commercial vehicles.

Mitsubishi Fuso was formed in January 2003 as a result of spinning off MMC’s truck and bus division.

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