'Follow the money' Woodford tells probe

 

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The Independent Online

The former Olympus head Michael Woodford said talks with the board had been "constructive" in their first meeting after he was ousted for whistleblowing. He described his life since the scandal erupted as like living in a "John Grisham novel".

The Briton, who was fired two weeks after he was appointed chief executive, flew into Japan on Wednesday to meet with the police, prosecutors and regulators before attending the company's board meeting yesterday. "I found the meeting much more constructive than I had anticipated," he said. "We are making progress."

Yet he urged investigators to follow the money, saying the total sum involved was $6bn . "There hasn't been definitive evidence at all. It's not legal to set up companies to hide losses so we are dealing with people who are prepared to carry out acts which are illegal," he said. "We still don't know what happened; we'd love to hear Olympus' side of the story."

Mr Woodford said there had been tension at the board meeting, "but there seemed to be an understanding that it was in no one's interest to raise the temperature. They didn't shake my hand and I didn't offer mine."

The company announced on Thursday that former chairman Tsuyoshi Kikukawa, along with deputy president Hisashi Mori and corporate auditor Hideo Yamada had resigned from the board. Mr Woodford said the departures had helped ease some of the tension at yesterday's meeting.

The scandal erupted last month after Mr Woodford raised "serious governance issues" around four Olympus transactions. The company claimed he was removed because of a culture clash and "was not in Japan enough".

He said yesterday: "70 per cent of our global sales comes from the US and Europe. I spent 40 per cent of my time in Japan, more than other foreign executives. It was exhausting. Olympus is working hard on its black propaganda." He added there was still a great deal to be uncovered.

Mr Woodford talked about concern for his safety after his departure, and whether organised crime was involved. "It's a bizarre situation. I'm a businessman, but I find myself in a John Grisham novel." Yesterday, KPMG's chief executive Michael Andrew said there was evidence of "significant fraud" at Olympus and called for a global set of standards for the auditing industry.

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