TOKYO -- Japanese police arrested a former head of Mitsubishi Motors Corp. and five others Thursday on suspicion of professional negligence that led to the death of a truck driver two years ago.
Among the suspects, police said, was Katsuhiko Kawasoe, 67, who headed Mitsubishi until late 2000 when he stepped down to take responsibility for Mitsubishi's hiding of safety records and vehicle defects from authorities.
If found guilty, the suspects face as many as five years in prison or a maximum fine of $4,530.
"We take this matter very seriously and intend to fully cooperate in investigations to shed light on circumstances surrounding the accident," Mitsubishi said in a statement.
"We would like to take this opportunity to... offer our sincerest apologies to the bereaved family."
Last month, several former Mitsubishi executives, including one-time vice president Takashi Usami, were indicted for violating road and trucking laws 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.
Usami was among the five others former executives arrested Thursday.
The cases come despite Mitsubishi's efforts over the past four years to clean up its act after it was revealed in 2000 that it had been hiding safety records and repairing vehicles secretly for two decades, in the industry's worst recall scandal ever.
Mitsubishi's new boss, Yoichiro Okazaki, has vowed to reform the opaque corporate culture at Japan's fourth-largest carmaker. But 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 automaker issued an open recall.
"In 1996, (Mitsubishi) set up an internal committee and found out that there was a problem in the design and production of the clutch housing," said Hiroyoshi Ichikawa, a spokesman at the Kanagawa prefectural police.
The committee concluded that a recall was necessary, he said, but Mitsubishi decided to conduct secret repairs instead.
In the accident, the driver lost control of the truck and crashed into a wall when the propeller shafts came off due to the faulty clutch housing.
The truck was made by what is now Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corp., which Mitsubishi spun off in January 2003. The unlisted truckmaker is now owned 65 percent by DaimlerChrysler and 20 percent by Mitsubishi.
Fuso issued a recall last month of about 170,000 heavy-duty trucks that could have a similar defect, admitting that it had broken the law by concealing the problem for eight years.
The scandals come at a bad time for Mitsubishi, Japan's only loss-making carmaker, which is trying to rebuild itself for the second time since 2000. It received an emergency rescue package worth $4 billion last month.
Adding insult to injury, DaimlerChrysler, which owns 37 percent of Mitsubishi, 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.