• Kyodo

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Two former executives of Mitsubishi Motors Corp. pleaded not guilty Thursday to falsifying reports on defective parts and thereby failing to prevent a fatal accident in Yokohama in 2002.

Hiroshi Murakawa, 58, who served as the head of Mitsubishi Motors’ product quality department, and Hirotoshi Miki, 56, a former senior official of the section, said in the opening session of their Yokohama District Court trial that they could not foresee the accident, in which a defective hub caused a wheel to fly off a moving MMC truck and strike and kill Shiho Okamoto, 29, and injure her two children.

Murakawa and Miki were charged with negligence resulting in death and injury. In court, they said they were sorry for the victims but claimed they did not perceive that a component of the truck would be too fragile to hold the wheel, and therefore were not negligent.

A separate trial began Sept. 1 before another Yokohama court for the automaker and three former executives, including former Mitsubishi Fuso Truck & Bus Corp. Chairman Takashi Usami, 64, on charges that they falsified reports to the government in order to avoid vehicle recalls.

In the Yokohama Summary Court trial, Usami and the three others also pleaded not guilty.

The district court trial is the first one to hold MMC officials criminally liable for a fatal accident.

According to the indictment, Murakawa and Miki submitted a false report to the former Transport Ministry on an accident in Hiroshima Prefecture in June 1999 in which a wheel came off a bus.

Murakawa and Miki claimed in the report, “There have been no similar accidents and response measures are not necessary,” even though there had been about a dozen similar cases of wheels coming loose and there were doubts about the strength of the hubs, the indictment said.

The automaker did not take measures to recall defective vehicles or repair the defects and thus failed to prevent the 2002 accident in Yokohama, according to the indictment.

Mitsubishi Fuso, the truck builder that was spun off from Mitsubishi Motors in 2003, at first denied responsibility and said the accident was due to lack of proper maintenance on the part of the driver.

Okamoto’s mother, Yoko Masuda, 55, did not attend the opening session of the trial. “The defendants are denying the allegations in this criminal trial despite the company having admitted to and apologizing over the defective parts. I cannot accept it,” she said earlier.

Another trial will begin next Wednesday before the same court involving four other defendants, including former MMC President Katsuhiko Kawasoe, 68. They stand accused of professional negligence resulting in death in connection with a fatal accident involving a defective clutch in Yamaguchi Prefecture in October 2002.

In March, Mitsubishi Fuso admitted the coverup in connection with the Yokohama accident and announced a recall of large vehicles with defective hubs.

In May, it issued another recall on large vehicles, this time on clutch defects in relation to the Yamaguchi accident. Mitsubishi Fuso admitted it had neglected the problem since 1996 although it knew of the need to recall the vehicles.

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