Olympus whistleblower faces board members

25th November 2011, Comments 0 comments

The ousted chief executive of scandal-hit Olympus faced his fellow board members Friday over a massive loss cover-up, as three key figures implicated in the scheme quit the Japanese firm.

Michael Woodford was back at the company's Tokyo headquarters six weeks to the day after being dumped as the first ever non-Japanese president and chief executive in the camera-maker's nine-decade history.

Woodford, who remains a director despite his ousting, told reporters Thursday the entire board was culpable in a 100 billion yen ($1.3 billion) cover-up dating back to the 1990s.

TV Asahi, without citing its sources, on Friday reported the Briton had told his fellow directors they all had to go.

Woodford, who was due to address a press conference later in the day, said as he emerged from the meeting that it had been "a constructive and honest exchange".

The scene had been set for a showdown between Woodford and the three main figures implicated in the cover-up, which saw hundreds of millions of dollars paid for companies unrelated to Olympus' core business and outsized fees handed to little-known consultants.

But on Thursday the company announced that former chairman Tsuyoshi Kikukawa and two other directors had quit the board.

Kikukawa resigned in October as president -- soon after replacing the ousted Woodford -- and chairman, while Hisashi Mori was sacked as executive vice president earlier this month and auditor Hideo Yamada "showed his intention to resign", the company said.

The trio had remained as board members but have now left, the company said.

Woodford described the move as "an encouraging development", according to Dow Jones Newswires.

"The company decided to accept their resignations as we have judged there will be no problem in getting their cooperation for the investigation," Olympus said, referring to an ongoing probe of the firm's accounts.

"The three people have cooperated sincerely on the investigation since the problem came to light and they said they would do so in the future," it added.

Woodford gave no further details about what had happened at Olympus HQ, but on Thursday he had been forthright in his calls for directors to take responsibility.

"I just hope that (the board directors) understand that the game is up... Have some shame, have some dignity, that's what I want to tell them," Woodford told a few dozen reporters outside the Metropolitan Police Department in Tokyo, after meeting police officials.

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

Alongside investigations in the US and Britain, Japanese police and government regulators are also probing the scandal, which has seen millions of dollars wiped off the value of the company as the stock price has plunged.

Amid media speculation that Yakuza organised crime syndicates could have had a hand in the financial shenanigans, the Briton said he was pleased with the attitude of the Japanese authorities.

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

Olympus shares soared 20.7 percent to 1,230 yen by the break Friday, but remained about 50 percent lower than one day before Woodford's sacking.

On Thursday, the firm's new president, Shuichi Takayama, said the scandal-hit company's management team was prepared to step down when Olympus was back on the road to recovery.

© 2011 AFP

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