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Former Mitsubishi Executives In Court Over Fatal Crash - 2004-10-08

Former executives of a major Japanese automaker appear in court in a precedent-setting case.

Several former top executives of Mitsubishi Motors have appeared in court to enter pleas. They are all charged with concealing a defective truck clutch system.

Former company President Katsuhiko Kawasoe and the former chairman of the automaker's truck and bus subsidiary, Takashi Usami, both pleaded not guilty. Two other lower-ranking former executives entered guilty pleas.

The four are charged with professional negligence, in a case in which a faulty clutch led to the death of a truck driver. This is believed to be the first time ever in Japan that top executives of an automaker are being held responsible for a fatal accident.

Wilfried Porth, president of Mitsubishi Fuso Truck & Bus Company, told reporters that outside lawyers are examining a number of problems at the company, which has been hit with lawsuits and criminal prosecutions alleging the cover-up of mechanical defects. He said the lawyers will submit a report by the end of the year. "There is possibly only limited individual legal responsibility in the clutch housing case, [but] this lack of company responsibility remains," he said. "We fully apologize for this."

Another Mitsubishi branch is also facing legal trouble. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries is one of about 30 companies accused of rigging bids for bridge construction projects funded by the government.

In other business news, Japan's Fair Trade Commission has raided offices of the companies allegedly involved in the bid-rigging. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries confirmed that its Tokyo headquarters was raided, but would not comment further.

Meat-related businesses in Japan will suffer about two-and-a-half-billion-dollars in economic losses this year, due to the ban on U.S. beef imports. That is according to the UFJ Institute, which says the loss is equivalent to between seven and nine percent of the industry's gross profits.

The ban was imposed last December, after a case of mad cow disease surfaced in the U.S. state of Washington. The institute says that suppliers and restaurants that relied on U.S. beef, and have not been able to find suitable substitutes, have suffered large losses.

Consumer electronics giant Sony says its music unit will stop making compact discs with built-in technology that limits the making of copies.

Sony had offered such anti-piracy technology for two years, but a spokesman for Sony Music says it turns out only a small portion of CD buyers are illegally copying music, so the technology is not necessary. Analysts, however, say the real problem is Sony's failure to offer an MP3 unit that copies and stores songs, a technology for which a huge worldwide market now exists. They say the failure has cost the company considerable business.