Mitsubishi Motors and three former executives pleaded innocent Wednesday to falsifying a report on a truck defect that led to a fatal accident, according to news reports cited by the Associated Press (AP).


The plea reportedly was made in the first of a series of trials linked to a defect cover-up scandal that has shamed the company, forced the recall of thousands of vehicles, and deeply damaged its reputation.


AP said the company and three executives – Takashi Usami, former chairman of Mitsubishi Fuso & Bus Corp.; and former Mitsubishi executives Akio Hanawa and Tadashi Koshikawa – are charged with falsifying a report to the Transport Ministry.


They all pleaded innocent, Kyodo News service and national broadcaster NHK reported, AP said, noting that the defendants face maximum fines of $US1,830 each.


The defendants are charged in connection with a 2002 accident in Yokohama in which a pedestrian was killed by a wheel that rolled off a Mitsubishi truck.


AP said that Katsuhiko Kawasoe, the former president of Mitsubishi Motors, and other executives face more serious charges of professional negligence resulting in death in separate court proceedings. He is charged in relation to a separate accident in 2002 in which a truck driver smashed into a building when the brakes on his Mitsubishi truck failed.


The Associated Press noted that Mitsubishi Fuso was spun off from Mitsubishi, and is 65% owned by DaimlerChrysler.


The defect scandal has revealed deep, long-standing quality-control problems at the automaker, AP said. Mitsubishi has acknowledged it had hidden vehicle defects and launched recalls for thousands of cars and trucks. Its vehicle sales in Japan sank 38% in the April-June quarter, while sales in North America tumbled 33% from the same period a year ago.


AP noted that, last week, Mitsubishi Motors announced it would accelerate plans to repair defects in cars it recalled, saying it would temporarily hire dozens of workers from affiliated companies to finish 90% of the repairs by December. The move came as the car maker wrapped up an internal probe into the cover-up scandal without finding any new defects.


Mitsubishi suffered a similar scandal four years ago, when it admitted to systematically concealing defects over decades, the Associated Press added.