Olympus ex-CEO to return to Japan, top shareholder cuts stake

Thu Nov 17, 2011 10:50am EST
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By Taiga Uranaka and Chikafumi Hodo

TOKYO (Reuters) - The former CEO of Olympus Corp, whose revelations about irregular deals and payments exposed an accounting scandal at the camera and medical equipment maker, will return to Japan next week to meet police and authorities investigating the case.

"I'll arrive on Wednesday afternoon," Michael Woodford told Reuters by telephone, adding he expected the Japanese authorities to ensure his safety while in the country.

Woodford, a Briton, fled Japan after being fired on October 14, and said earlier this month he didn't think it would be safe for him to return to the country. The scandal has raised fears, denied by Olympus, that the deals could be linked to "anti-social forces," a euphemism in Japan for organized crime.

Woodford will meet with Japanese police, prosecutors and officials of the Securities and Exchange Surveillance Commission, the Japanese financial market regulator.

Olympus is under investigation after admitting hiding investment losses for decades and using payments linked to acquisitions to aid the cover-up.

Those payments included a $687 million fee paid to obscure financial advisers for Olympus's $2.2 billion purchase of British medical equipment firm Gyrus in 2008. The fee is the world's biggest, according to Thomson Reuters data.

The Nikkei business daily said earlier Olympus may sell assets to help pay down debt under a plan aimed at keeping the support of its banks. Their backing is vital because the firm is relatively highly geared and is expected to have to make some hefty writedowns after its accounts are put straight.

Katsunori Nagayasu, chairman of the Japanese Bankers Association and president of Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, the country's top bank, said it was the responsibility of main creditors to show support for a company in trouble.   Continued...