TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan’s disgraced Olympus Corp is set for a tense boardroom showdown on Friday when its former chief executive confronts the men who sacked him a month ago with his own call for their resignations over a huge accounting scandal.
Michael Woodford, still an Olympus director despite being fired as CEO and blowing the whistle over the scandal, plans to attend the firm’s scheduled board meeting in Tokyo, his first return to the boardroom since it unanimously dumped him on October 14.
Backed by some big shareholders, he says he is willing to reclaim the top job and clean up the once-proud maker of cameras and endoscopes.
“I want to take the opportunity to look the directors in the eye and tell them what I think is best for the company,” Woodford told reporters on the eve of the meeting, having flown back to Japan from a month of self-exile in his native Britain.
Woodford, who says he was sacked for questioning a string of unusual payments to obscure firms, had fled Japan immediately after his dismissal, citing fears for his safety amid speculation the scandal could somehow involve organized crime.
But this week he returned to the eye of the storm, flying back to meet police, prosecutors and regulators investigating the scandal, which has wiped out more than half of Olympus’s market value and raised the prospect that it could be delisted from the Tokyo stock market and forced to sell core businesses.
Olympus initially denied any wrongdoing after sacking Woodford, a rare foreign CEO in Japan, but later admitted it had hidden investment losses from investors for two decades and used some of $1.3 billion in M&A payments to aid the cover-up.
Late on Thursday, three directors blamed for the concealment quit their directorships, including former President and Chairman Tsuyoshi Kikukawa, which promised to ease at least some of the worst boardroom tension Woodford could face on Friday.
But the CEO-turned-whistleblower still wants the rest of the board to go, including the new president, Shuichi Takayama, who has said that the current management team is ready to quit only once “the path to Olympus’s revival became clear.”
Some major foreign shareholders have called for Woodford to be immediately reinstated as CEO, but the 51-year-old himself says he does not believe that will happen at Friday’s meeting.
“I just hope they understand the game is up and do the decent thing, stop damaging the company. Don’t look for self-interest, look for the 45,000 people (who work for Olympus),” Woodford told reporters on Thursday.
“Have some shame, have some dignity, that’s what I want to tell them.”
Olympus has until December 14 to straighten out its accounts and report its half-year results to the stock market. If it misses that deadline, it will be automatically delisted.
Writing by Mark Bendeich; Editing by Edmund Klamann