NEW YORK (Reuters) - Takata Corp said on Tuesday it has hired Andrew Levander, a prominent New York defense lawyer, to oversee legal matters including a criminal probe stemming from a growing scandal about its defective air bags.
More than 17 million cars have been recalled worldwide since 2008 for defects in the Japanese manufacturer's air bag inflators. Five deaths and dozens of injuries have been linked to the flaw, which can cause air bags to rupture upon deployment, spraying metal shards inside the car.
A federal grand jury in Manhattan has subpoenaed Takata's U.S. unit to produce documents on the defects, a company spokesman said last week. The company said it is cooperating.
Takata also faces more than 20 class-action lawsuits, congressional scrutiny and a probe from the U.S. auto safety regulator.
Levander is a partner in Dechert LLP's white collar practice and a former prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney's office in Manhattan. Takata is relying on Levander to lead a team of lawyers who will handle both criminal and civil matters.
Known for his bowties, Levander brings to Takata a track record of representing entities dealing with scandals that force them to talk under oath while also under scrutiny from enforcement authorities and plaintiffs’ lawyers.
He has represented Jon Corzine, the former New Jersey governor and one-time CEO of MF Global, over the company's collapse; and Robert Diamond, former CEO of Barclays, over the bank's manipulation of the Libor benchmark interest rate. He also has represented companies including GlaxoSmithKline and Hewlett-Packard.
A Takata executive, Hiroshi Shimizu, is due to testify at a Senate hearing about the defects and the slow response from industry and regulators.
Dechert's Washington partner, Steven Bradbury, and other legal counsel will attend the hearing before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which begins at 10 a.m. EST (1500 GMT) on Thursday, said Takata spokesman Alby Berman.
Bradbury is former head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel.
David Bernick, another noteworthy Dechert partner, is representing Takata in class action litigation. Bernick, a former general counsel at tobacco giant Philip Morris, has defended asbestos claims and breast implant makers.
Charles Stillman, a veteran white-collar criminal defense attorney, said Levander understands what it takes to handle a major investigation involving multiple authorities.
"He's the real deal," said Stillman, now with Ballard Spahr Stillman & Friedman.
Reporting by Karen Freifeld; Editing by Karey Van Hall