Three Takata Corp. executives were accused in a U.S. indictment of misleading federal regulators, consumers and car manufacturers about the company’s faulty air bags as part of a years-long scheme that led to the biggest recall in history.

Shinichi Tanaka, Hideo Nakajima and Tsuneo Chikaraishi were charged in federal court in Michigan. The indictment came just hours before prosecutors are expected to announce that Takata has agreed to plead guilty and pay as much as $1 billion. A press conference in Detroit is scheduled for later Friday.

There are 46 million recalled Takata inflators in 29 million vehicles in the U.S., the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said. More recalls are coming over the next three years, affecting as many as 69 million inflators in 42 million vehicles, the agency said.

The three executives knew that the inflators had experienced ruptures and other failures during testing from about 2000, and routinely discussed fabricating test results, removing unfavorable information — known as “XX-ing” the data — and manipulating the reports, according to the indictment.

Repeated Problems

They’re accused of withholding information and data about the faulty air bags from other manufacturers after the equipment began experiencing repeated problems around 2008.

The three conspired to enrich the company and themselves by inducing carmakers to buy air bags with flawed and dangerous inflators by issuing false reports and other information that hid the true condition, according to the indictment.

Nakajima allegedly e-mailed Tanaka and others around February 2004 to explain that he was “manipulating” test data for an inflator. About a year later, Tanaka sent an e-mail to Nakajima, Chikaraishi and another person saying they had “no choice” but to give manipulated data to a carmaker, according to the indictment.

In a March 2005 e-mail, Tanaka again indicated that unfavorable test data had been removed, and a month later directed a junior engineer to “please do XX.” Two months later, Nakajima said in an e-mail to several people that they had to “cross the bridge together” and had no choice but to rig data.

The case is U.S. v. Tanaka, 16-cr-20810, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Michigan.