TOKYO -- A former president of Mitsubishi Motors Corp. (MMC) pleaded innocent on Wednesday to charges of professional negligence that prosecutors said had caused the death of a truck driver in 2002.
Separately, the troubled auto maker renewed its promise to correct its culture of hiding vehicle defects.
On the first day of the trial, Katsuhiko Kawasoe, 68, and one-time Mitsubishi Motors vice president Takashi Usami, 64, pleaded not guilty to allegations that they had concealed defects in the clutch system on certain truck models.
Kawasoe headed MMC until late 2000, when he stepped down to take responsibility for a scandal that laid bare the auto maker's decades-long practice of hiding safety records and vehicle defects from authorities.
Prosecutors have charged that accident could have been avoided if the company had issued an open recall of the defective model instead of conducting secret repairs.
Two other former MMC executives pleaded guilty on Wednesday for their role in the case.
Conviction on the charges carries a prison sentence of up to five years or a maximum fine of 500,000 yen ($4,500).
"I once again offer my sincere regrets to the bereaved family," MMC's current chief executive, Yoichiro Okazaki, said in a statement.
"Regardless of the fact that this trial involves several individuals, the fact that concealed recall information contributed to this accident has made us realize the importance of corporate social responsibility," he said.
Okazaki, who took his post in April, has promised to reform MMC's opaque corporate culture and restore confidence in Japan's only unprofitable car maker as it tries to nurse its operations back to health.
His pledge has largely fallen on deaf ears as customers steer away from the company's products. Domestic sales volume in August fell 45 percent from a year earlier.
In the 2002 accident, the 39-year old driver lost control of his truck and crashed into a wall due to a faulty clutch housing.
The truck was made by what is now Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corp, which MMC spun off as a separate company in January 2003. The unlisted truck maker is now owned 65 percent by DaimlerChrysler AG and 20 percent by MMC.
Usami and several other former MMC officials are also facing trial on charges of 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.