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Mitsubishi Truck Company Recalls 450,000 Vehicles As Police Raid Home of Former President

TOKYO June 14, 2004; Yuri Kageyama writing for the AP reported that the truck company spun off from Japanese automaker Mitsubishi Motors Corp. said Monday it was recalling 450,000 trucks and buses for defects it had failed to report four years ago when a defect cover-up scandal surfaced.

Earlier Monday, police raided the home of Katsuhiko Kawasoe, the former president of Mitsubishi Motors, who was arrested last week on suspicion of hiding auto defects after promising to come clean in the earlier scandal.

Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corp., 65 percent owned by DaimlerChrysler AG of Germany, has announced recalls of thousands of vehicles this year after acknowledging hub and clutch defects suspected in two fatal accidents.

But the latest list of 47 recalls, announced by Mitsubishi Fuso chief executive Wilfried Porth, dates back to models produced as far back as 1983, and is linked to 13 accidents resulting in injury, 26 accidents resulting in property damage and 74 fires in vehicles.

Some exported vehicles were probably affected by the defects, but the models, numbers and other details have not yet been determined and it is unclear whether recalls will be needed, Porth said.

Kawasoe and five others are suspected of professional negligence resulting in death in a 2002 accident in which a truck driver smashed into a building when the brakes on his Mitsubishi truck failed.

Separately, five former and current officials at Mitsubishi were charged last month in another accident -- the death of a pedestrian crushed by a wheel that rolled off a Mitsubishi truck in 2002.

The defects disclosed Monday span a wide range, including brakes, hub bearings, oil hoses and emergency doors. In 2000, the company picked only four defects to report, partly because of a corporate climate in which employees did not speak up about suspected defects, Porth said.

Meeting minutes show that officials intentionally hid the clutch defects despite knowing they could cause serious accidents, Porth told reporters at Tokyo company headquarters.

"This is unacceptable," Porth said, adding that he was awaiting the rulings in the upcoming trials of Mitsubishi officials to get to the bottom of the scandal.

"I would like first to apologize to our customers and the general public for the serious wrongdoings of our company in the past," Porth said.

Among the 13 possibly linked accidents resulting in injury, one in 1995 was fatal -- the driver of a Mitsubishi van veered into the wrong lane in a tunnel when a tire burst and the van crashed into an oncoming truck, killing the driver in that truck.

But police and company investigations have shown that speeding was the cause of the accident and not the defect, company officials said. The other reported injuries were less serious, such as broken bones and burns.

Kawasoe, 67, and the others are in custody, and prosecutors are deciding whether to file official charges. Police say Kawasoe and the others failed to follow orders from authorities to report auto defects, dealing only with reported problems dating back to March 1998 and choosing to overlook suspected clutch defects first noted in 1996.

Mitsubishi's brand image has been badly tarnished over the cover-up scandal. Car sales in Japan plunged by nearly 60 percent in May from a year earlier, and bus companies and local governments have already decided not to buy Mitsubishi buses.

Earlier this year, DaimlerChrysler decided not to inject any additional cash into Mitsubishi Motors' turnaround plans for its passenger car business, and Mitsubishi Motors announced another plan last month using cash from the Mitsubishi group and other companies.

Porth said Monday that DaimlerChrysler remains committed to the truck company and has sent 10 experts to improve quality control and fix its operations.

He said it was too early to estimate the cost of the recall or its impact on the company's financial results, but acknowledged the damage would be "significant."

Porth said Monday's announcement was comprehensive in presenting "a clear picture" and that more recalls of concealed defects weren't likely.

"We will establish a company where the customer comes first," he said.