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Court Finds Mitsubishi Execs Guilty After Fatal Accident

Japanese court found Mitsubishi Motors and its three former executives guilty of falsifying a report in a fatal accident suspected of being linked to a wheel defect.

TOKYO (AP) -- A Japanese court found Mitsubishi Motors and its three former executives guilty Tuesday of falsifying a report to the government in a fatal accident suspected of being linked to a wheel defect.

The Tokyo High Court threw out a lower court decision from December 2006 that acquitted the three executives, including Takashi Usami, former chairman of Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corp., the automaker's truck division at the time of the accident.

The focus of the trial was whether the executives tried to hide a wheel defect suspected of being linked to the February 2002 fatality. Shiho Okamoto, 29, was killed when a wheel rolled off a Mitsubishi truck and crushed her. Her two children were also injured in the accident.

A court official, speaking on condition of anonymity, citing court policy, said the higher court rejected the earlier decision by the Yokohama Summary Court that acquitted the three and the company.

Tuesday's ruling slapped a 200,000 yen ($1,900) fine on each defendant, the maximum penalty for the charge under Japanese law.

Mitsubishi Motors said it accepted the ruling.

"We will do our utmost to regain consumer trust," the Tokyo-based automaker said in a statement.

The three executives declined to comment on the ruling, which can be appealed.

Mitsubishi Motors and its truck unit, which has since become a separate company, were mired in a scandal that first surfaced in 2000 over a systematic hiding of defects. The automaker recalled millions of vehicles -- some models repeatedly for multiple problems.

Although the manufacturer promised the cover-ups will never happen again, it acknowledged in 2004 that it didn't come clean in 2000, and continued to recall more vehicles.

Among the defects requiring recalls were parts that connect the wheel to the truck model in the 2002 accident. They also included braking systems and other crucial parts.

Separately, a Japanese court last year found two former Mitsubishi employees guilty of professional negligence in the death of Okamoto.

The two, who had been overseeing quality control at Mitsubishi, received suspended sentences, meaning that they won't have to serve time in jail.

Ideas of consumer rights and corporate responsibility are relatively new in Japan, a conformist, harmony-loving society in which conflicts are avoided and often settled behind the scenes.

Japan's first product liability law was passed only in 1994. Damage suits are relatively rare, and companies are rarely required to pay more than a token amount. Even when convicted of criminal wrongdoing, executives of companies are generally handed lenient sentences with no prison terms.

Shares in Mitsubishi Motors dropped in morning trading to 182 yen ($1.70), down 1.1 percent from the previous day.