Olympus whistleblower heads to US for FBI talks

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Michael Woodford, the ousted chief executive of Olympus, left Tokyo on Saturday for New York, where he will meet US investigators about the Japanese camera maker's cover-up of huge losses.

During a four-day stay in Tokyo, the Briton met police, public prosecutors and members of the Securities and Exchange Surveillance Commission to cooperate with their probe into a scam which surfaced after he blew the whistle on it.

Local media have reported that the investment losses may total more than 100 billion yen ($1.3 billion). The company has yet to disclose details.

Adding to its mounting troubles, Olympus said on Friday a US investor had filed a class-action lawsuit against the company accusing it of presenting false financial statements for at least five years.

The case was filed with a Pennsylvania court by an individual on behalf of all holders of Olympus American Depositary Receipts (ADRs) purchased between November 7, 2006 and November 7, 2011, Olympus said in a statement in Tokyo.

ADRs allow a foreign company to trade on US stock exchanges.

Woodford, who on Friday attended a high-profile Olympus board meeting for the first time since he was dismissed on October 14, told reporters at Tokyo's Narita airport before his departure that his visit had been positive.

He said that he expected Japanese authorities to conduct a thorough probe into the scandal, in which the company has admitted to hiding latent losses on securities investments since the 1990s.

"It's clear to me that they will investigate without bias, they will turn over every stone and they will follow the money flows," said Woodford, who remains a company director.

He will meet FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) agents and prosecutors from the US Department of Justice before returning to London on Wednesday, he said.

Woodford urged company board members to resign "as quickly as possible" once the company submits its financial accounts by the December 14 deadline. He said he hopes Olympus remains a listed company.

The firm last month abruptly fired Woodford, the firm's first non-Japanese chief, just six months after appointing him.

Woodford has said he was sacked because he questioned company 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.

© 2011 AFP

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