Ex-Olympus head Woodford meets Japan investigators

24th November 2011, Comments 0 comments

The ousted chief of scandal-hit Olympus, Michael Woodford, met on Thursday Japanese investigators over a cover-up of huge investment losses dating back to the 1990s, pledging the truth would out.

The Briton is in Japan for the first time since Olympus stripped him of his title on October 14, only six months after appointing him its first ever non-Japanese president and two weeks after he was also named chief executive.

Woodford, who blew the whistle on the scandal at the camera and medical equipment maker, held talks with prosecutors in Tokyo, where a special white collar crime unit is examining the matter.

"I think justice will be done," he said in a speech at a media event after meeting with investigators. "They gave assurance to me that they will follow the money."

"The board is all contaminated. Absolutely. They made all these decisions. All of them have to go," he said. "It's financial misreporting on grand scale. It's false accounting on grand scale."

Woodford also met with police and government regulators, who assured him authorities would conduct thorough investigations into Olympus' overpayments in a series of acquisition deals that have also led to probes by British and US authorities.

In a statement released Thursday, Olympus company president Shuichi Takayama said that the management team was prepared to step down once the Japanese firm is on the road to recovery.

"Once the group is on the road to recovery, the current management team are willing to resign our positions at any time to take responsibility for the crisis," Takayama said in a statement.

Olympus had said earlier that Woodford was ousted because of cultural differences -- despite his 30-year career with the group.

But Woodford has contended that he was sacked because he questioned the acquisitions and enormous fees paid to little-known consultants based in the Cayman Islands, and because of his calls on the then chairman to resign.

Olympus originally defended its past deals, only to eventually admit that it funnelled funds through the corporate purchases to cover up losses it made on bad investments during the 1990s.

Local media have reported that the losses may total more than 100 billion yen ($1.3 billion). But the company has yet to disclose details, citing a probe by an outside panel commissioned by its board.

Woodford -- who major shareholders and retired employees have called to be reinstated -- plans to attend the company board meeting Friday to push for a deeper investigation into the mismanagement.

"How was it hidden for 20 years? It is a question hopefully investigators will have answers to," he said.

"I think Olympus is a good business," he said, adding that he would be willing to return to the firm.

Britain's Serious Fraud Office has also launched an investigation, along with those under way by Japanese and other international agencies amid media speculation that Yakuza crime syndicates may be involved.

After his meetings in Japan, Woodford will travel to the United States for talks with investigators there.

Olympus' actions have prompted a massive sell-off of its shares, which had lost 80 percent of their value at one point after Woodford was demoted.

But the shares have rebounded in recent trade, with Woodford saying he did not wish the company to be delisted and called for a new management team to be put in place.

Olympus shares shot up 17.3 percent, or 150 yen, Thursday to close at 1,019 yen -- roughly 41 percent of their value before Woodford was removed.

The stock has been placed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange's watch list for possible delisting.

The company will be removed from the index if it fails to report its earnings by December 14 -- a move that would effectively wipe out the value of its shares and could trigger investor lawsuits.

© 2011 AFP

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