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Tokyo Police Raid Mitsubishi Offices

TOKYO January 27, 2003; Kozo Mizoguchi writing for the AP reportred that police raided the headquarters of Japanese automaker Mitsubishi Motors Corp. Tuesday, expanding their investigation into a fatal accident in which a tire came off a truck and crushed a pedestrian.

It was the second time in three months that police have searched the company on suspicions of professional negligence after tires repeatedly fell off of Mitsubishi trucks and, in one case, caused a death and two injuries.

Police raided the company's Tokyo headquarters in October. On Tuesday, they expanded their search to include several other locations, including the Tokyo offices of its bus unit, Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corp., and a plant in nearby Kawasaki, said Kanagawa prefectural (state) police spokesman Tsuneo Kosuge.

In the January 2002 accident, Shiho Okamoto, a 29-year-old housewife, was killed and her two sons injured when a tire from a Mitsubishi trailer hit them as they walked along a sidewalk in the city of Yokohama, just west of Tokyo.

Investigators have found the hub linking the axle to the tire was broken.

Mitsubishi Motors has denied any error in the production and design of the vehicles. But it has admitted that faulty checkups led to the accident and could have been avoided if the bolts were tightened properly.

"We regret this second search, and will continue to cooperate fully with the authorities," Mitsubishi Fuso said in a statement.

In an analysis of the hub involved by a police research institute, experts have found "no structural defect" of the hub, the national Yomiuri newspaper said in its Tuesday evening edition. Officials refused to confirm the report.

Mitsubishi Fuso spokesman, Masato Ichimura, said Tuesday 50 cases of unloosening tires were reported in total, but no further reports of injuries or significant damage.

Police believe as many as 30 cases were reported before the accident that prompted Mitsubishi to implement extra safety measures, media said.

Four years ago, Tokyo-based Mitsubishi Motors said it systematically hid auto defects to avoid recalls for more than two decades. The disclosure came after investigators found a stack of unreported driver complaints in a company locker following an anonymous tip. The company later recalled more than a million vehicles.

Mitsubishi Motors, 37 percent owned by DaimlerChrysler AG, has been trying to rebuild its image. But its sales in Japan has been hurt because of concerns about quality problems.

Mitsubishi Fuso, span off from Mitsubishi Motors in January 2003, is 42 percent owned by Mitsubishi Motors.