3 Takata Executives Face Criminal Charges Over Exploding Airbags

The United States charged three Takata executives in a criminal investigation into the airbag maker and its exploding airbags, according to court records unsealed Friday.

The indictments are the latest moves by the outgoing Obama administration to extract guilty pleas from companies and to charge individual managers and executives. The efforts are seen as a departure from the years following the 2008 financial crisis, when not a single top Wall Street executive went to prison.

On Tuesday, the Justice Department announced the indictment of three former traders from some of the world’s biggest banks, accusing them of a conspiracy to manipulate prices in a currency market. The next day, it announced a guilty plea from Volkswagen, and criminal charges against six Volkswagen employees for their roles in the emissions-cheating scandal.

The Takata executives, Shinichi Tanaka, Hideo Nakajima and Tsueno Chikaraishi, were indicted by a grand jury in Michigan. All three had worked for Takata until around 2015 in the United States and Japan, where Takata is based, the indictment said.

Defective airbags made by Takata have been tied to 11 deaths and more than 180 injuries in the United States alone. The ensuing recall — the largest in automotive history — has turned out to be messy, confusing and frustrating for car owners.

In addition to those charges, the prosecutors announced that Takata will plead guilty to charges stemming from its fraudulent conduct, and pay a total of $1 billion in criminal penalties. The plea will be entered by the Takata corporation, based in Tokyo, and signed by Shigehisa Takada, Takata’s chief executive.

It is unusual for a company to plead guilty to criminal charges.

The airbags, which can rupture violently when they deploy, have been linked to at least 11 deaths and more than 180 injuries in the United States.

Takata’s airbags have triggered the largest automotive recall in American history, affecting nearly 70 million airbags in 42 million vehicles.

According to the indictment, the three executives were aware of internal airbag test results, from about 2000, which showed that its airbags’ metal inflators could explode.

But they routinely discussed falsifying those test results, discarding damaging information, an action referred to internally at Takata as “XX-ing” the data, the indictment said.

Takata did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and the whereabouts of the three executives was unknown.