Olympus ex-CEO attacks Japan investors as comeback bid struggles

Thu Dec 15, 2011 5:29pm EST
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By Yoko Kubota

TOKYO (Reuters) - The whistleblower in Japan's Olympus Corp scandal, ex-CEO Michael Woodford, blasted Japanese shareholders on Thursday for failing to stand up for him, amid signs that domestic and foreign investors are split over his campaign to be reinstated.

Woodford, an Englishman who was a rare foreign CEO in Japan, went public with his concerns over crooked accounting at Olympus after his dismissal in October, leading to the uncovering of a $1.7 billion fraud that has left the company badly weakened.

He is now lobbying shareholders of the maker of cameras and medical equipment to support his reinstatement and replace the disgraced board with a new team that he is assembling.

"We saw a shameful state of the company's finances yesterday, but not one Japanese shareholder stood up and said publicly 'Mr Woodford is right, thank you Mr Woodford', anything, a total, an utter silence," Woodford said, a day after Olympus released its restated accounts on Wednesday.

His comeback campaign has highlighted the contrasting opinions of foreign and Japanese shareholders on the future leadership of Olympus, which has been found to have carried on a $1.7 billion fraud to hide investment losses for 13 years.

At least three big foreign shareholders have backed Woodford's bid to return to the company where he spent three decades working his way up from salesman to CEO. But not one Japanese shareholder or lender has openly supported him since he blew the whistle, leaving him clearly frustrated.

Woodford also launched an emotional attack on the firm's current Japanese boss.

"Should that man be the president and custodian of one of Japan's iconic companies?" he said of Olympus President Shuichi Takayama, one of the directors who had voted unanimously to sack him after he had queried the firm's dubious book-keeping.   Continued...