Former Mitsubishi Motors head convicted for death

TOKYO (Reuters) - A Japanese court found a former head of Mitsubishi Motors Corp 7211.T and three other former executives guilty of negligence leading to the death of a truck driver, a court official said on Wednesday.

Former company President Katsuhiko Kawasoe, 71, and the others were given suspended sentences, allowing them to walk free, the official at Yokohama District Court said.

The arrest of Kawasoe hit Mitsubishi Motors just as it was trying to recover after it was revealed in 2000 the company had covered up safety records and customer complaints for decades in Japan’s worst recall scandal.

The case is the first involving a faulty vehicle in which the head of a manufacturer has been convicted, Kyodo news agency said. All four had pleaded not guilty, it said.

In the fatal accident six years ago, a driver in Yamaguchi, at the southern tip of Japan’s main island, lost control of his truck and crashed into a wall.

Police said the crash could have been avoided if Mitsubishi had issued a recall for vehicles with faulty clutch housings.

Mitsubishi had been aware of the fault but decided to conduct secret repairs, police said. The truck was made by what is now Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corp, which Mitsubishi Motors spun off in January 2003.

In December, the Yokohama court found two other former Mitsubishi executives guilty of negligence in another fatal accident in 2002, in which a female pedestrian was killed by a wheel that came loose from a Mitsubishi Fuso truck, domestic media said.

Although sales and earnings have recovered, recall scandals involving the concealment of safety defects dogged Mitsubishi Motors for years.

Sales slumped as its brand image was battered and DaimlerChrysler dissolved its partnership with the Japanese automaker, leading to a multibillion-dollar bailout from Mitsubishi group firms and investment funds.

Reporting by Isabel Reynolds; Editing by Mike Miller