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Saturday, July 16, 2008

MMC, trio fined over false report on defects

Staff writer

The Tokyo High Court on Tuesday overturned a lower court ruling and fined Mitsubishi Motors Corp. and three former executives ¥200,000 each for falsifying documents on its defective truck hubs, which caused a fatal accident in 2002.

The court found MMC, former Vice President Takashi Usami, 67, former Executive Director Akio Hanawa, 67, and board member Tadashi Koshikawa, 65, guilty of fabricating a report filed with the transport ministry.

In handing down the ruling, presiding Judge Toshio Nagai said the defendants reported that the deficiencies in its truck hubs were caused by improper maintenance even though they were aware of the possibility of a design failure in the production line.

The defendants "filed a deceptive report" in an attempt to avoid a vehicle recall, Nagai said.

The defendants were acquitted in December 2006 by the Yokohama Summary Court, which said they could not be held liable for filing erroneous documents because a formal request for a report was never issued by the transport minister.

But Nagai overruled that verdict, stating that informal demands made by ministry officials were solid enough to constitute a proper request under the Road Trucking Vehicle Law. Responding to such a demand with a falsified document should be considered a crime, Nagai ruled.

Lawyers for the defendants said they would appeal the case to the Supreme Court, telling reporters their clients did not know about the hub defect at the time and could not have intentionally filed a fabricated report.

In demanding a fine of ¥200,000 each — the heaviest penalty permissible for false reports under the vehicle law — prosecutors said the executives faked a report to the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry in February 2002 after a 29-year-old woman was killed and her two children were injured by a wheel that flew off an MMC truck a month earlier.

Although inspections revealed that some of the truck's hubs, which connect the vehicle's wheels with its axles, collapsed before wearing down, the court said the executives knowingly turned in reports that suggested accidents could be prevented by adhering to proper maintenance and replacing hubs showing wear of 0.8 mm or more.

Tuesday's ruling stated that there were 26 cases of hub malfunctions logged between April 1998 and February 2002, with seven involving relatively new hubs.

"Although it was unclear whether (the defect) was caused by wear, the defendants reported that the malfunctions did not derive from the production line," the court said.

Mitsubishi Fuso Truck & Bus Corp., which was spun off from MMC in January 2003, acknowledged the defect and issued a recall two years after the fatal accident, in March 2004.

After the verdict was read, Usami, Hanawa and Koshikawa released a statement calling it an "unjust ruling" and "extremely deplorable."

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The Japan Times

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