US prosecutors are considering criminal charges against Japanese supplier Takata, due to unlawful conduct in the handling of its rupture-prone airbags.
The Wall Street Journal reports US Justice Department investigators have held preliminary discussions with Takata, in anticipation of a criminal case – with Takata knowing about its airbags rupturing as early as 2003.
The airbags have been linked to more than 14 deaths and more than 150 injuries worldwide. The fatalities led to the global auto industry’s biggest-ever recall of more than 100 million vehicles worldwide.
Federal prosecutors are considering charging Takata with criminal wire fraud, after determining the company likely made misleading statements and concealed information about its airbags, which can explode and spray shrapnel inside crashed vehicles, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Prosecutors from the US attorney’s office in Detroit and the Justice Department’s fraud section in Washington are also considering pursuing criminal charges against Takata employees, the journal says.
The Japanese supplier has acknowledged providing misleading testing reports on airbags to customers, including Honda, while adding the discrepancies weren’t tied to safety devices that later exploded.
In November 2015, Takata admitted it failed to alert regulators to defective airbags in a timely manner as required under US federal law. It agreed to pay a NZ$96 million fine to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Settlement papers from the case show Takata knew about the potential for its airbags to rupture as early as 2003, when an airbag ruptured in Switzerland. Safety recalls were not held until 10 years later – in 2013, 2014 and 2015.
Safety regulators found Takata in produced testing reports that contained “selective, incomplete or inaccurate data” in several instances, according to the settlement. The company also failed to “clarify inaccurate information” provided to regulators in January 2012.
Regulators last week released an internal Takata report detailing the company’s years-long history of lapses with air bags.
In a February 2010 response to queries from regulators about certain air-bag recalls, Takata failed to mention the May 2003 Switzerland rupture and claimed there were no reported malfunctions of relevant air-bag inflators.
A US engineer at Takata questioned the omission but later decided the company’s response was accurate because the inflator involved in the Switzerland rupture wasn’t among those manufactured at the time.