Local Japanese police have brought a criminal case against three current and former Toyota Motor Corp. (TM) officials on suspicion they delayed filing a recall report despite knowing of a vehicle defect for about eight years, Toyota said on Tuesday.

Prefectural police in Kumamoto, southern Japan, sent the case to the prosecutors office on suspicion of professional negligence resulting in bodily injury, after a road accident in which five people were injured.

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A Toyota spokesman said the company would cooperate fully with police, but added it stood by its view that it had filed the recall following proper guidelines.

Toyota filed a recall report with Japan's transport ministry in October 2004 covering a combined 330,496 units of the Hilux 4WD, Hilux Surf Wagon and Hilux Surf cars built between 1988 and 1996 to repair a faulty component in the steering system.

The spokesman said Toyota first learned of the problem in 1996, but decided after investigation that the potential frequency of the problem occurring and the unique conditions under which it would occur did not warrant a recall at the time.

Toyota then decided in July 2004 to re-examine the case after receiving reports of the defect from users a few months earlier. No accidents were reported in connection with those cases.

The first accident occurred in August 2004, a month after Toyota began to look into the faulty part for a possible recall, the spokesman said. In the accident, the driver of a Hilux lost control and crashed into an oncoming car, injuring the five people in that vehicle. The driver of the Hilux was unharmed, Toyota said.

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