The former head of Mitsubishi Motors Corp. pleaded innocent Wednesday to charges of professional negligence in a fatal crash that prosecutors say was caused by a design defect, AP reports.
 
Katsuhiko Kawasoe was president four years ago when he acknowledged the Tokyo-based manufacturer had for decades hid auto defects from authorities. He entered his plea at Yokohama District Court, where his trial opened, a company spokesman said.

Earlier this year, the company and its truck affiliate, Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corp., admitted it failed to come clean in 2000 and continued to hide design problems, stunning the Japanese public and sending Mitsubishi car sales plunging.

Prosecutors say Kawasoe, former Mitsubishi Fuso Chairman Takashi Usami, Yuzo Murata, a former executive overseeing truck operations, and Tatsuro Nakagami, the former head of quality control, knew of a clutch-design flaw for several years but failed to report it to authorities or take appropriate safety measures.

At Wednesday's session, Usami pleaded innocent, while Murata and Nakagami pleaded guilty, a company spokesman said on condition of anonymity, AP said.

The defect is suspected in the October 2002 accident in southwestern Japan that killed a 39-year-old driver, who crashed into a concrete embankment after his brakes failed.