Japan's Olympus faces investor, watchdog pressure
Shareholders in Japanese camera giant Olympus on Thursday called for an investigation into a series of acquisition deals at the centre of a bitter row with its ousted British chief executive.
An investor group holding about 17 percent of the company wants to probe the purchase of four companies between 2006 and 2008 that were flagged as troubling by former Olympus Chief Executive Michael Woodford, who was stripped of his executive posts a week ago, Dow Jones Newswires reported.
The camera and medical equipment company paid billions of dollars for four small and mid-sized firms, as well as nearly $700 million to an adviser.
Olympus subsequently wrote off about $730 million from its investment in three of those companies.
Japan's Nippon Life Insurance, the largest shareholder in Olympus with an 8.3 percent stake, said it had asked the company for a clear explanation of what happened, a rare move for traditionally passive domestic investors.
Southeastern Asset Management, the firm's second-biggest shareholder, and Harris Associates LP, its fourth-largest shareholder, both said they sent letters to the Olympus board, several Japanese regulators and the Tokyo Stock Exchange with a list of questions, and November 16 deadline for a response.
They also called for an independent third-party audit.
"We want answers from Olympus to these very disturbing public allegations. It's their responsibility to all stakeholders to provide these answers," said Josh Shores, a senior analyst and principal at Tennessee-based Southeastern.
David Herro, chief investment officer at Chicago-based Harris, said: "Clearly, there are a lot of serious questions surrounding corporate governance at Olympus, especially around (mergers and acquisitions)."
Herro said he hoped the company would "put in place a management team more in tune with modern governance practices."
Olympus declined to comment on the matter or confirm whether it had received any letters.
The firm's ousted chief earlier said he had sent a letter to Japan's Securities and Exchange Surveillance Commission asking it to look into the deals, as pressure continues to mount on the embattled company's management.
The feud has hammered the firm's stock with Olympus shares, which closed Friday at 1,231 yen, down nearly 50 percent from before the abrupt ouster of Woodford, Olympus' first non-Japanese president and chief executive.
Olympus said the Briton was demoted over "differences in management style", only six months after being appointed president and two weeks after he was also named chief executive.
But the 30-year company veteran contradicted that account, saying was instead removed after he wrote to the company's chairman over the fee payments and urged him to resign, citing major governance concerns.
The Tokyo bourse said it would urge Olympus to disclose more information on the firm's acquisitions in recent years.
© 2011 AFP