Former Head of Mitsubishi Arrested

A former head of Mitsubishi Motors Corp (search) (MMC) was arrested on Thursday on suspicion of professional negligence that led to the death of a truck driver two years ago, the auto maker said.

Japanese police arrested Katsuhiko Kawasoe (search), 63. The suspect headed MMC until late 2000, when he stepped down in disgrace to take responsibility for MMC's hiding of safety records and defects from authorities.

"We take this matter very seriously and intend to fully cooperate in investigations to shed light on circumstances surrounding the accident," MMC said in a statement.

"We would like to take this opportunity to... offer our sincerest apologies to the bereaved family."

Last month, several former MMC executives, including one-time vice president Takashi Usami, were indicted in a separate defect case in which a woman died when she was hit by a wheel that came loose from a Mitsubishi Fuso truck in 2002.

The cases come despite MMC's efforts over the past four years to clean up its act after being nabbed in 2000 for hiding safety records and repairing vehicles secretly for two decades, in the industry's worst recall scandal ever.

MMC's new boss, Yoichiro Okazaki (search), has vowed to reform the opaque corporate culture at Japan's fourth-largest car maker. However, that pledge has fallen on deaf ears as customers steered away from its cars, sending domestic sales down 56 percent in May.

In the latest case, police believe the fatal accident in Yamaguchi prefecture, at the southernmost tip of Japan's main island, could have been avoided had the auto maker issued an open recall, Kyodo news agency quoted investigative sources as saying.

Arrests of five other former executives are set to follow shortly, Kyodo said.

The truck, which had a defective clutch housing, was made by what is now Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corp (search), which was spun off from MMC in January 2003. The unlisted truck and bus maker is now owned 65 percent by DaimlerChrysler AG (search) and 20 percent by MMC.

Fuso issued a recall last month of about 170,000 heavy-duty trucks that could have a similar defect, admitting that it had concealed the problem for the past eight years.

The scandals come at a bad time for MMC, Japan's only loss-making car maker, which is trying to rebuild itself for the second time since the last blow-out in 2000. It received an emergency rescue package worth $4 billion last month.

Adding insult to injury, DaimlerChrysler, which owns 37 percent of MMC, said this week it might demand compensation from its partner for the fallout at Fuso.

The news of the arrest, which had been expected, came after the stock market closed.

MMC shares ended up 0.5 percent at 200 yen.