Olympus investigator will fly in to meet Woodford

Big investors say the company is still notfully engaging with concerned shareholders

The campaign by the former Olympus chief executive Michael Woodford to expose a series of controversial transactions has forced a member of the investigating committee to fly to the UK for a meeting.

The camera and precision instruments maker faced further pressure from shareholders yesterday, as one manager called the independent committee a "smokescreen" and criticised its failure to engage with shareholders.

Eiji Katayama, one of the lawyers appointed by Olympus to the independent committee, is flying to London to interview Mr Woodford on 21 November. But Mr Woodford remains concerned about the independence of the board, saying: "I have reservations over the whole process."

Mr Woodford was fired two weeks into his reign as chief executive, despite having spent 30 years at the company, after he raised "serious governance concerns" over four deals. He was forced to leave Japan, saying he feared for his personal safety.

The events of the past month have prompted a procession of shareholders to demand clarity over the deals. The Edinburgh-based fund manager Baillie Gifford became the latest to weigh in yesterday.

The group invests in Olympus on behalf of clients who have combined holdings of more than 4 per cent. Its chief investment officer, Gerald Smith, said: "Olympus management seems to be using the establishment of the third-party committee as a smokescreen and an excuse not to engage with shareholders; this is unacceptable."

The company has tabled a series of questions to management which have yet to be answered. "This raises justified concerns about whether Olympus management is fit to continue in office," Mr Smith said, adding that Baillie Gifford would make direct contact with the chairman of the committee to highlight its key concerns.

This follows public criticism of the group from investors including Southeastern Asset Management, Nippon Life and Harris Associates. Baillie Gifford went one stop further than its peers in demanding an overhaul of the Olympus board, calling for a majority of independent directors. "These changes should be implemented without delay," it said.

The company's shares have tumbled since Mr Woodford's departure, and lost a further 7.5 per cent yesterday. The resignation of the chairman, Tsuyoshi Kikukawa, and the establishment of an independent inquiry have done little to stem the losses.

The deals in question are being investigated by regulators in the US, and those in Japan said they were watching the situation carefully. The UK's Serious Fraud Office is also considering whether to launch a full investigation, with some talk of a decision in the next few weeks.

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