Olympus under fire as it names committee for inquiry

 

Olympus yesterday named the members of the six-strong independent committee set up to scrutinise a series of controversial deals, but still faced criticism from one major investor and the former chief executive.

The camera and precision equipment maker last month pledged to draw up a third party committee as a scandal threatened to engulf the company. The case even prompted the Japanese prime minister to call on the company for clarity earlier this week.

In a statement released yesterday morning, Olympus announced the third party committee consisted of five lawyers and one accountant. All are Japanese and hold "no interests with the company".

It has not bowed to calls from its ousted chief executive Mr Woodford to appoint a non-Japanese member to the committee to represent overseas shareholders interests. Foreign investors hold about a third of the shares. He said yesterday: "One Westerner would have given the committee credibility. I'm extremely disappointed."

The chain of events at Olympus was set off after the company fired Mr Woodford two weeks into his reign as chief executive citing a culture clash. He countered that he was ousted after raising "serious governance concerns" over a series of deals.

Olympus said yesterday the committee would "conduct an impartial business judgment, regarding its previous acquisition transactions". It will also make recommendations over how the company can improve its governance structure.

The members of the committee will investigate the acquisition of British group Gyrus, where Olympus paid a record $687m (£431m) fee to its advisers, a third of the total transaction. The takeovers of Altis, News Chef and Humalabo will also be probed.

The committee will be chaired by Tatsuo Kainaka, a former justice of Japan's Supreme Court and superintending prosecutor of the Tokyo High Public Prosecutors' office.

Other notable members include the former president of the Nagoya High Court Hideki Nakagome and Tomoyoshi Arita, former superintending prosecutor of Fukuoka high public prosecutors' office.

Southeastern Asset Management, which holds 5 per cent of the group, has been vocal in its demands that Olympus appoint an external committee and said: "We recognise the committee and are glad to see it finalised". However it was disappointed the report will not be out until the end of the month.

Josh Shores, principal at Southeastern, said the investor was also disappointed that its recommended appointment of a former chief financial officer of a major Japanese company – whom it did not publicly name – was ignored.

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