A former Mitsubishi president was convicted of professional negligence Wednesday in a fatal head-on crash that followed a systematic cover-up of auto defects at the Japanese automaker.
Former Mitsubishi Motors Corp. President Katsuhiko Kawasoe, who had pleaded innocent, was sentenced to three years in prison suspended for five years, a Yokohama District Court official said on customary condition of anonymity. The suspended sentence means he won't have to serve time.
Kawasoe and three other company officials were suspected of failing to report defects although they knew the problems could cause serious accidents.
They were charged in 2004 with professional negligence resulting in death in a 2002 accident in southwestern Japan in which a driver died in a crash after the brakes failed on his Mitsubishi vehicle. A defective clutch system that was later recalled is suspected of causing the brake failure.
The three other officials were also found guilty but were given suspended sentences, the court official said.
Kawasoe, who became president in 1997, quit in disgrace in 2000 after acknowledging that the automaker had hidden defects for decades, many secretly repaired without recalls, despite reports of dozens of accidents.
The massive cover-up scandal stunned Japan when it surfaced in 2000. The sale of Mitsubishi Motors vehicles plunged, sending the Tokyo-based maker into losses for years.
For decades, Mitsubishi kept a two-tier record of driver complaints, tucking away defect reports in a locker that employees called "H," standing for the Japanese word for "secret."
Responsibilities were not defined and driver safety concerns were forgotten, according to a company report ordered in response to the scandal. When the concealed defects grew massive over the years, everyone was afraid to speak up, it said.
Mitsubishi apologized Wednesday to the family of the driver who died, and the company promised to do better.
"The entire company will continue to do its utmost to uphold corporate governance," it said in a statement.
The scandal has produced two other criminal trials.
In December last year, Yokohama District Court Two found two former Mitsubishi quality-control workers guilty of professional negligence in the death of a pedestrian crushed by a wheel falling off a truck.
That trial revolved around the January 2002 death of then 29-year-old Shiho Okamoto, a housewife, who was walking on a sidewalk with her two children when she was crushed to death by a wheel that rolled off a Mitsubishi truck. Her two boys were injured.
In another lawsuit, three former Mitsubishi officials, charged in Okamoto's accident, were acquitted in December 2006 of falsifying defect reports and failing to take proper recall measures. Among them was Takashi Usami, former chairman of Mitsubishi Fuso Truck & Bus Corp., the automaker's former truck unit.