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Mitsubishi to punish for cover-up

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TOKYO — The president of Japan's Mitsubishi Motors vowed Monday to take "strict disciplinary action" as police raided the automaker's headquarters in the wake of its admission that it covered up auto-defect complaints for more than 20 years.

The comments came amid mounting expectation in the Japanese media that company president Katsuhiko Kawasoe would resign over the cover-up.

The company's stock dropped 12.4 percent Monday in the aftermath of the weekend police raids. Mitsubishi shares finished at 361 yen ($3.41) on Monday.

In a statement released Monday, Kawasoe apologized for the scandal and said he would work towards regaining the trust of customers.

"Together with my management team, I will . . . devise a set of measures to rectify the situation and to prevent any recurrence, as well as taking strict disciplinary action within the company," Kawasoe said.

The Nihon Keizai newspaper and Kyodo News agency reported on Monday that Kawasoe had decided to resign to take responsibility for the scandal. The reports, citing unidentified company sources, said he planned to quit after the Transport Ministry takes disciplinary steps against the automaker.

But a Mitsubishi spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity, denied the reports.

Kawasoe's predecessor, Takemune Kimura, stepped down in 1997 over allegations of illegal company payments to corporate racketeers.

On Sunday, police searched Mitsubishi headquarters, two factories and the homes of two officials, confiscating records of meetings of Mitsubishi officials discussing recalls, consumer complaints and computer disks containing records of recalls and consumers' claims.

Transportation Minister Hajime Morita said Friday that the government and police were preparing charges against the carmaker, which the ministry says hid about 64,000 consumer complaints for more than 20 years. A plan under consideration would fine Mitsubishi 4.2 million yen ($37,800) at most, and no Mitsubishi executives or employees would face prosecution.

Since last month, Mitsubishi has recalled a mammoth 620,000 vehicles for defects, including failing brakes, fuel leaks and malfunctioning clutches. The recalls came only after government inspectors found documents about auto defects hidden in a company locker room.

None of the defects have been known to cause any deaths, though several accidents in Japan have been attributed to them.

Last week, the automaker submitted to the government the results of an internal investigation that found workers and managers had knowingly and systematically filed away consumer complaints about auto defects since 1977.