Prosecutors and police on Tuesday searched the Tokyo headquarters of Kobe Steel Ltd. over the quality data fabrication scandal that has rocked Japanese manufacturing.
The investigative authorities believe the company violated a law that prevents unfair competition by systematically misrepresenting its products.
Kobe Steel has admitted to falsifying inspection data for aluminum and copper products, which have been supplied to over 600 companies at home and abroad, and used in cars, aircraft, space rockets and defense equipment.
(Kobe Steel CEO Hiroya Kawasaki bows in apology in October 2017)
According to the company’s final report on the scandal, released in March, the steelmaker altered data on strength and other aspects at 23 domestic and overseas plants to make its products appear as if they met client specifications.
Kobe Steel said about 40 employees were involved in the irregularities, including former board members. Data had been fabricated since around the 1970s at its plant in Tochigi Prefecture, according to the company.
The prosecutors had already begun a probe into the fabrication of Kobe Steel’s quality data, on a voluntary basis, but judged that the search was necessary to back up the claimed misconduct.
Major Japanese carmakers including Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. have said they used Kobe Steel products in their vehicles. Affected products have also been used by Central Japan Railway Co. for shinkansen bullet trains and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. for Mitsubishi Regional Jet passenger planes.
The companies have said the falsified data do not pose safety issues for the products.
The U.S. Justice Department has separately launched a probe into the case, asking the Japanese steelmaker to submit documents linked to the scandal.
Customers in the United States and Canada have filed class-action lawsuits seeking compensation for the use of substandard products manufactured by the company.