Takata Corp. and three former employees were charged by federal prosecutors with concealing deadly defects in automotive air bag inflators, the AP reports. A federal grand jury indicted the former employees—Shinichi Tanaka, Hideo Nakajima, and Tsuneo Chikaraishi, who worked in Japan. According to an indictment, as early as 2000 the trio of workers falsified and altered reports to hide from customers tests that showed the inflators could rupture or otherwise fail to meet specifications. They were charged with six counts of conspiracy and wire fraud. The indictments were unsealed Friday. "Defendants commonly referred to the removal or alteration of unfavorable test data that was to be provided to Takata customers as 'XX-ing' the data," the indictment says. In June 2005, Nakajima said in an email that "they had no choice but to manipulate test data, and that they needed to 'cross the bridge together.'"
Prosecutors also charged Takata Corp. with one count of wire fraud, and the company has agreed to plead guilty to a single criminal charge and will pay $1 billion in fines and restitution for concealing the deadly defect, the AP reports. The US Attorney's Office in Detroit announced the plea deal on Friday. Takata will pay a $25 million criminal fine, $125 million to individuals who were injured by the air bags and $850 million to automakers that purchased the inflators. The US district court in Detroit has appointed attorney Kenneth Feinberg to distribute restitution payments. Takata air bag inflators can explode with too much force, spewing metal shrapnel into drivers and passengers. At least 16 people have been killed worldwide, 11 of them in the US, and more than 180 injured. The faulty inflators have touched off the largest automotive recall in US history involving 42 million vehicles and 69 million inflators.