updated 6/10/2004 9:12:57 AM ET 2004-06-10T13:12:57

Katsuhiko Kawasoe, the former president of scandal-plagued Mitsubishi Motors Corp., was arrested Thursday on charges related to a cover-up of auto defects suspected in a fatal accident, the Japanese automaker said.

Mitsubishi Motors President Yoichiro Okazaki apologized for the death in a statement and said he was taking the news of the arrest seriously.

Police confirmed there had been an arrest in the Mitsubishi Motors cover-up on charges of professional negligence resulting in death.

Mitsubishi Motors has been plagued by a series of recalls since four years ago when it first admitted it had systematically hidden auto defects and announced a massive recall.

Kawasoe resigned in 2000 to take responsibility for the scandal, although he was not personally implicated and denied any knowledge of the cover-up system that had been going on for decades at his company.

Although the automaker has repeatedly promised to come clean, the spate of recalls has not stopped.

After years of denial, Mitsubishi Motors recently acknowledged wheel and clutch defects suspected in two fatal accidents involving its truck partner, Mitsubishi Fuso Truck & Bus Corp. In one, a pedestrian was crushed by a wheel that rolled off a truck. In another, a truck driver crashed.

Former executives and current officials have been charged by Japanese prosecutors in the first accident. Thursday's arrest is over the clutch defect, police said.

In April, DaimlerChrysler, which owns 37 percent of Mitsubishi Motors, dealt the Japanese company a serious blow by refusing to provide fresh financing. Mitsubishi Motors announced a revival plan last month, with injections of money from the Mitsubishi group and other companies.

Mitsubishi has said there may be more recalls, and executives _ shown almost by the day on televised news and newspapers bowing their heads deeply _ expect sales in coming months to fare worse than the nearly 60 percent plunge reported in May on-year in Japan.

Kawasoe took over the automaker after a 1997 scandal involving payoffs to racketeers and promised to fix his company, including monitoring product quality.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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