A former president of Japanese automaker Mitsubishi Motors Corp. and three other former executives were formally charged on Thursday over a fatal accident in which a truck driver died after his brakes failed and he crashed, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

AP said that among the four indicted were former Mitsubishi Motors president Katsuhiko Kawasoe, 67, and Takashi Usami, 63, the former chairman of the company’s truck-making affiliate Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corp. – Usami was also charged in May over a separate accident, when a wheel flew off a Mitsubishi truck and crushed a pedestrian to death.

The executives were charged on Thursday with professional negligence resulting in death, Masakazu Sakai, spokesman for the Yokohama district public prosecutor’s office, told the news agency.

AP said there was no immediate word on how those charged would respond – the charges carry a penalty of up to five years in prison or fines of 500,000 yen ($US4,630).

The report noted that a design flaw in the clutch has been cited as the cause of the truck accident in which a 39-year-old driver of a Mitsubishi truck was killed after the defect caused his brakes to fail and the vehicle crashed into a concrete rampart.

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Prosecutors reportedly say the executives were aware of the defect six years before the October 2002 accident but failed to report it to road authorities or take appropriate safety measures.

“I am very sorry for all the trouble that this incident has caused. Mitsubishi Motors will watch the trial closely,” Mitsubishi Motors president and chief operating officer Hideyasu Tagaya said in a statement cited by the Associated Press.

AP noted that Kawasoe was president of Mitsubishi Motors from November 1997 to November 2000 and Usami was vice-president of Mitsubishi Motors’ commercial vehicle business beginning June 2000, then became chairman of Mitsubishi Fuso in January 2003 when the unit was spun off – he remained chairman until last April.

AP said the indictments came as Mitsubishi Fuso announced on Thursday it would begin offering free inspections for all its 1.3 million vehicles on Japanese roads to allay drivers’ worries following a spate of recalls for serious defects – the truckmaker has announced recalls affecting more than 500,000 vehicles since late May but is also now offering free inspections of vehicles that are not being recalled.

Figures released Thursday showed that auto sales at both Mitsubishi Motors and Mitsubishi Fuso plummeted in June compared to the same month last year, AP noted – Mitsubishi Fuso sold 5,198 vehicles in June, a 26.5% year on year drop, while Mitsubishi Motors plummeted 64.3% to 4,885 vehicles, though in part due to particularly high sales last year when demand for its new “Grandis” minivan was much stronger.