Toyota deliberately withheld key evidence during litigation over vehicle safety, according to a Congressional review of documents obtained from a former top Toyota lawyer turned whistleblower.
The documents were obtained under subpoena from ex-Toyota attorney Dimitrios Biller by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which this week held a hearing investigating Toyota's alleged sudden acceleration problems.
According to committee chair Rep. Edolphus Towns, D.-N.Y., "the Biller documents indicate a systematic disregard for the law and routine violation of court discovery orders in litigation."
The committee's findings support claims made by Biller in an exclusive on-camera interview with ABC News earlier this month. Biller alleged that the company withheld evidence of safety problems from plaintiffs' lawyers and regulators.
"You have to understand that Toyota in Japan does not have any respect for our legal system," said Biller, who worked as managing counsel for Toyota's American operations from 2003 to 2007. "They did not have any respect for our laws."
Among the documents cited by Towns is a memo sent by Biller to his Toyota superiors complaining that the company had failed to produce records despite being legally required to do so under discovery.
Towns says that another memo from Biller, tied to a sudden acceleration lawsuit filed against Toyota in 2005, revealed that Toyota was concerned about the issue as far back as June of 2005. According to Towns, the memo reads: "When this lawsuit was threatened, no one was surprised. This issue (sudden unintended acceleration) had been the subject of a number of meetings and the exchange of a number of documents between TMS (Toyota Motor Sales) and TMC (Toyota Motor Company). Did anyone ever gather and organize all those documents and memorialize the "meetings"? If so, where are the documents and information about the meetings?"
According to Towns, Biller's documents also revealed the existence of Toyota's top secret "Books of Knowledge," which contained all design and testing information on Toyota vehicles in electronic form.
Towns said his committee uncovered evidence that Toyota "entered into multi-million dollar settlements in tort cases" rather than disclose the existence of the confidential material to plaintiffs' lawyers.
Rep. Towns has sent a letter to Yoshimi Inaba, head of Toyota's North America operations, demanding a response to the documents. "People injured in crashes involving Toyota vehicles may have been injured a second time when Toyota failed to produce relevant evidence in court," Towns wrote in the letter. "Moreover, this also raises very serious questions as to whether Toyota has also withheld substantial, relevant information from NHTSA."
In a statement, a Toyota spokesperson said the company was trying to protect "trade secrets."
"Toyota takes its legal obligations seriously," sad the statement. "It is not uncommon, however, for companies to object to certain demands for documents made in litigation. Consistent with that philosophy, we take appropriate steps to maintain the confidentiality of competitive business information and trade secrets. We are confident that we have acted appropriately with respect to product liability litigation and our discovery practices and look forward to addressing Chairman Towns' concerns.