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Former Mitsubishi Motor executives acquitted over fatal accident

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A Japanese court has acquitted three former executives of Mitsubishi Motors Corp. of charges related to a fatal accident that prosecutors said was caused by their alleged coverup of a design flaw, court officials said.

The Yokohama Summary Court also found the company not guilty Wednesday over the 2002 accident in which a tire fell off a Mitsubishi truck, killing a 29-year-old woman, court official Yuko Ueda said. The victim's two children were also injured.

Ueda said no other details of the ruling, the first of the three criminal trials involving Mitsubishi's recall coverup scandal, can be released immediately.

Prosecutors accused the three executives _ Takashi Usami, 66, former vice-president of Mitsubishi and former chairman of affiliate Mitsubishi Fuso Truck & Bus Corp., Akio Hanawa, 65, former executive director at Mitsubishi, and Tadashi Koshikawa, 64, Mitsubishi's former operating officer _ of falsifying defect reports on its truck wheel parts, and failing to take measures in order to avoid vehicle recalls.

The auto company revealed in 2004 that it failed to come clean in 2000 and continued to hide design problems, stunning the country and sending Mitsubishi car sales plunging.

The design flaw forced the manufacturer to announce massive recalls to repair the defect, along with other faulty components including the clutch system, doors and engines.

Judge Hiroshi Kojima acknowledged Wednesday that the defendants concealed data on the defects, but said they were acquitted because there was no official request from the Transport Ministry ordering them to submit a defect report under the road and transport law, disputing the claims by the prosecutors and transport officials, Kyodo said.

The Transport Ministry called the ruling ``extremely regrettable.''

Yokohama district prosecutors are considering appealing the ruling, Kyodo said.

Prosecutors said Usami and two others had concealed the hub defects in a report to the Transport Ministry in 2002, a month after the accident, demanding that each man be fined 200,000 yen (US$1,709) _ the maximum penalty for the crime.

All three Mitsubishi executives pleaded not guilty during the trial that began in 2004.

Mitsubishi Motor said in a statement it will continue effort to ensure product safety and compliance to ``regain public trust,'' but avoided directly commenting on the ruling.

The victim's mother in 2003 filed civil suits against the truck operator and the Transport Ministry, demanding damages and reached out-of-court settlement last year with Mitsubishi Fuso, which agreed to pay two million yen ($17,090) to the family.

Mitsubishi Motors in December 2004 also reached a settlement with the family of a man who died in a crash caused by a design flaw in one of its trucks in October 2002. Four former Mitsubishi Motors officials, charged with professional negligence, are on trial in that case.

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Former Mitsubishi Motor executives acquitted over fatal accident
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