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NEW YORK - Japan's Takata Corp. is the subject of a U.S. criminal investigation over defective car air bags that have been linked to five deaths, a spokesman said on Thursday.
A federal grand jury in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York has subpoenaed Takata's U.S. unit to produce documents on the air bag defects, the spokesman said in Tokyo.
Separately, executives from the auto parts supplier may be asked to testify at a U.S. Senate committee hearing next week, according to Japan's Nikkei news service. Takata did not confirm whether the executives would meet with U.S. lawmakers.
The U.S. federal prosecutors' investigation into the Japanese safety-parts maker had been previously reported, but Thursday's statement is the first indication that a seated grand jury was seeking evidence.
Takata disclosed the probe in a closed-door meeting with financial analysts. Takata had told the analysts it was not considering adding production lines to make replacement air bag inflators, explosive devices that allow air bags to inflate in a fraction of a second during a crash.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) also has issued a special order demanding documents and other evidence on air bag defects. Takata has until Dec. 1 to comply.
Since 2000, Takata has made more than 100 million inflators, according to industry estimates and company data. Since 2008, more than 17 million cars equipped with Takata air bags have been recalled, including more than 11 million in the United States.
Defective Takata air bag inflators have been found to explode with dangerous force in accidents, sending shards of metal into the vehicle.
In a statement posted Thursday on the company's website, Chief Executive Officer Shigehisa Takada apologized to customers and shareholders for the company's problems: 'Our whole company will strengthen our quality management structure and work to prevent an incident from occurring again,” Takada said.