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U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa issued a statement Wednesday criticizing Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda’s decision not to testify before Congress over the carmaker’s recalls, saying the top executive is reluctant to give an account of the problems to Americans.

Toyoda’s decision suggests he is “not as eager to give Congress and the American people answers as we first thought,” a spokesman for the California Republican said in the statement.

Toyoda was “given every opportunity to come before Congress and the American people voluntarily to provide assurance that Toyota will do everything in its power to ensure the safety of American drivers,” the spokesman said.

He added that Issa had thought Toyoda would take advantage of the congressional hearing to move forward amid the tremendous pressure on him and the Japanese automaker.

Issa, who serves on a House of Representatives committee looking into Toyota’s massive recalls, is expected to grill Toyota officials at a hearing next week.

Toyoda told a Tokyo press conference Wednesday that he will not appear before the congressional hearing committee and that Toyota Motor North America Inc. President Yoshimi Inaba would be the best person to do so.

Issa sent a letter to Inaba, demanding the automaker account for past reports to U.S. regulators after 2005 that concluded there were no factors or trends suggesting defects in Toyota vehicles or parts in connection with the problem of uncontrolled acceleration.

The lawmaker also called on Inaba to explain when the carmaker became aware of problems with the Prius hybrid’s brakes and the Corolla’s power steering, and when it reported them to U.S. authorities.

In a related development, Japanese Ambassador to the U.S. Ichiro Fujisaki voiced concern Wednesday over possible repercussions from the Toyota recalls on the wider Japanese business community.

The problem of Toyota “should not affect the image of Japanese products,” Fujisaki told reporters.

He also said he had asked U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to handle the matter appropriately.

Fujisaki said he and LaHood talked over the phone Tuesday, but declined to elaborate on the Toyota problem.

Hearings moved up

WASHINGTON (Kyodo) The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce said Wednesday it has moved up its hearing on Toyota Motor Corp.’s massive recalls to Feb. 23, instead of Feb. 25 as initially planned.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is also scheduled to hold a hearing on the recall issue on Feb. 24, with Toyota Motor North America Inc. President Yoshimi Inaba and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood expected to testify.

Despite growing calls from U.S. lawmakers to appear before Congress, Toyota President Akio Toyoda is reluctant to attend.

The hearing appears to have been rescheduled due to a planned meeting between President Barack Obama and members of Congress to discuss health care reform on Feb. 25.

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