In the Media

Prosecutors look for additional ammunition in Olympus inquiry

PUBLISHED December 4, 2011

An independent panel appointed by Olympus to investigate an accounting scandal at the Japanese camera maker will publish its findings tomorrow, raising the prospect of criminal action.

The publication could pave the way for the prosecution of former Olympus executives, who face allegations of fraud, filing false financial statements and aggravated breach of trust.

Tokyo police, prosecutors and the Securities and Exchange Surveillance Commission, which are conducting a joint investigation into the accounting scandal, are expected to step up their inquiries, depending on the conclusions of the ?third-party committee?.

The committee, which is made up of five lawyers and a certified public accountant, is looking into the claim that Olympus executives, led by Tsuyoshi Kikukawa, the company?s former president, used corporate deals to hide massive losses over 20 years. One of the focuses of its inquiry is likely to be the payment of irregular fees to Cayman Islands-linked advisers who worked on Olympus?s acquisition in 2008 of Gyrus Group, a British medical equipment maker specialising in the field of endoscopy.

Experts have said that if the panel found evidence of the involvement of organised crime syndicates, Olympus may be forced to give up its battle to retain its listing on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, which already will be at risk if it is unable to file its delayed second-quarter results by December 14.

In its most recent statement, given two weeks ago, the committee noted that media reports had suggested that organised crime syndicates may have been involved, but said: ?No such facts have been uncovered in the course of the committee?s investigation to date.?

The publication of the conclusions comes as Michael Woodford, the Briton fired as its chief executive in October after blowing the whistle on his suspicions of wrongdoing, stepped up his campaign to be reinstated.

He is seeking support from Olympus shareholders both past and present to oust the board and replace it with a new slate of directors, with him as chief executive, in a so-called proxy battle. Such activism is rare in Japan and he faces an uphill battle.

The Englishman took action after declaring that he had no confidence in Shuichi Takayama, the new president, to reform governance of the company after the scandal over hidden accounting losses, which could amount to as much as £1 billion.

?I intend to liaise with all interested stakeholders with a view to formulating a proposal for the constitution of a new board,? Mr Woodford said. ?I formally request the current management to convene an extraordinary shareholders? meeting as soon as possible to allow the shareholders to decide who should lead the company through these challenging times.?