U.S. asks judge to dismiss Toyota acceleration case as monitoring ends

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Justice on Tuesday asked a federal judge to dismiss a criminal charge against Toyota Motor Corp after the Japanese automaker completed three years of monitoring as part of a $1.2 billion settlement over claims of sudden unintended acceleration in its vehicles.

FILE PHOTO: The Toyota logo is seen at a dealership in Ruemlang, outside Zurich October 10, 2012. REUTERS/Michael Buholzer/File Photo

The request, filed in federal court in Manhattan, should bring to an end Toyota’s legal woes stemming from its admission that it misled U.S. consumers by concealing and making deceptive statements about the extent of sudden acceleration problems in 2009 and 2010.

In 2014, the world’s second-largest automaker paid what was then a record fine for a car company to settle the case and reached a deferred prosecution agreement with the Justice Department. That agreement included three years of oversight by an independent monitor, which ended on Monday.

Former U.S. attorney David Kelley, who acted as the monitor, declined to comment, citing confidentiality rules.

Toyota spokesman Scott Vazin said the automaker was pleased the government confirmed Toyota’s compliance with the terms of the deferred prosecution agreement and was moving to dismiss the case.

“Over the past three years, we have worked hard in the spirit of continuous improvement to make Toyota a stronger company that serves its customers better,” he said.

In bringing charges, the Justice Department said that Toyota minimized problems, misled regulators and provided inaccurate information to Congress in the scandal linked to at least five deaths.

In 2014, U.S. District Judge William Pauley said the case presented a “reprehensible picture of corporate misconduct” and expressed hope the government would ultimately hold responsible decision-makers at Toyota accountable. “This, unfortunately, is a case that demonstrates that corporate fraud can kill,” he said.

Ultimately, the Justice Department did not bring criminal charges against current or former Toyota executives.

The $1.2 billion settlement was the largest penalty levied by the United States on an auto company until Volkswagen AG VOWG_p.DE admitted to diesel emissions fraud earlier this year and paid $4.3 billion in fines.

Toyota made significant changes to its safety practices after the recall crisis that briefly forced it to halt sales of nearly half of its vehicles in 2010 and led to company president Akio Toyoda appearing before Congress to apologize.

Toyota settled other related suits, including an agreement covering as many as 22 million current and former Toyota owners over sudden acceleration claims valued at as much as $1.63 billion. There are still some individual civil claims pending in California.

Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington and Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Bill Rigby