SFO examines Olympus as firm targets own managers

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The Independent Online

The Serious Fraud Office has become the latest regulator to investigate the governance of Olympus. The news emerged as the Japanese maker of cameras and electronic equipment vowed to take legal action against any executives involved in a corporate cover-up.

Britain's fraud watchdog said yesterday: "We have opened an inquiry into Olympus and are liaising with other organisations and international colleagues following information given to us by the Olympus chief executive."

Michael Woodford was ousted as Olympus's first foreign CEO last month for raising "serious governance concerns" with its board. He later passed documents to the SFO. Yesterday, he said the launch of a UK investigation was a "very positive development".

Since Mr Woodford was sacked, the company has been in turmoil. This month it admitted covering up losses for 20 years. A series of regulatory bodies other than the SFO are scrutinising payments in fees and potentially inflated prices of non-core takeovers totalling more than $1.3bn (£823m), which relate to four Olympus transactions in 2008.

In Japan, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police and the Security and Exchange Surveillance Commission are studying the case. In the US, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission are also investigating. "You need people who have the legal right to follow the money; that's how you get to the truth," Mr Woodford said last night. "And we need to uncover the detailed truth."

Questions still remain about the size of the original losses at Olympus, how they were disguised and where the money ended up.

Yesterday it also emerged that the company's newly-installed president, Shuichi Takayama, had sent an internal memo to staff outlining the action awaiting those involved.

The memo, which was seen by the Reuters news agency, said: "We will wait for the third-party panel to report, and we are preparing to take firm legal action, including criminal complaints, against any manager it finds responsible."

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