NEW YORK (Reuters) - A six-week-long fight with Olympus Corp in one of Japan’s biggest corporate scandals ever is taking its toll on the whistleblower — former CEO Michael Woodford.
Woodford, 51, who said he had been getting only a few hours of sleep a night since the Olympus scandal broke last month, told Reuters the fight proved to be emotionally traumatizing for him and his family, and had significantly strained his finances.
“In a way it feels like bereavement, but you’re not sure if you’re going to get them back from the dead,” Woodford said, referring to his colleagues and friends from Olympus, where he spent some three decades.
His wife, Nuncy, who has been traveling with him, would experience sudden panic attacks, Woodford said.
“In the first weeks — she still does, but not with the same frequency — wake up in the middle of the night with nightmares, screaming, shouting, just very distressed and taking 6 or 8 minutes just to calm her down.”
Woodford, a Briton and a rare foreign CEO in Japan, was sacked on October 14 after questioning several strange deals at the 92-year-old maker of cameras and medical equipment.
The weeks since have proved to be all-consuming for Woodford, who has spoken publicly about the scandal and traveled to the United States and Japan to make his case, at times worrying about his safety, especially amid speculation organized crime might be involved.
Olympus, which first denied any wrongdoing, has admitted it had hidden investment losses for two decades and used some of $1.3 billion in M&A payments to aid the cover-up.
Olympus has lost more than half its market value since the scandal erupted and it now risks being delisted from the Tokyo stock market, and risks being broken up or taken over.
Woodford, who does not have another source of income, said the battle with his former employer cost a significant amount of money, which he for now has to pay himself.
Asked why Olympus was not paying his legal bills, Woodford said “they are good questions” for the company.
The biggest tab is from the three law firms he has engaged — London-based Simmons & Simmons, Japanese firm Nagashima Ohno & Tsunematsu and Washington-based Miller & Chevalier.
“They are all being reasonable. They understand I am not a corporation. But nevertheless, if you don’t have any income coming in, and you have school fees to pay ...it is a heavy burden.”
Woodford said his lawyers were “exceptional” and cared about the case.
“I never thought I would be saying such things about lawyers,” he added.
Woodford said he would consider legal action, including for defamation, against Olympus down the road.
Olympus has said it fired Woodford because he failed to adapt to Japanese culture and the company’s management style. Woodford says he was axed for questioning dubious merger and acquisition payments.
“That’s illegal what they did. But again, there’s a lot of people worried, not just myself, about their future and their livelihoods,” he told Reuters TV. “I certainly don’t feel sorry for myself and there will be an end to this and, hopefully for everyone at Olympus, a happy ending.”
Woodford was in New York to meet the FBI, as well as prosecutors from the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission representatives were also present at the meeting on Tuesday.
He declined to give further details about the meeting.
But he struck an optimistic note on the seriousness of the investigation into Olympus in Japan, saying the authorities there were intent on tracking down wrongdoing at the company.
“I was skeptical. I thought this would be three people would be punished, the company would have to pay a fine and that would be the end of it,” Woodford said.
“They made it clear they would look at it holistically ... and they would follow the money flows, and that they would act on what they find. And that they would do that — actually investigate. And that’s a big jump.”
Reporting by Basil Katz and Paritosh Bansal; editing by Andre Grenon