Olympus settles claim with ex-boss Michael Woodford
Jim Armitage is the City editor of The Independent and London Evening Standard group of newspapers. He has been a reporter and editor for more than 20 years and was recently shortlisted for the Press Gazette financial journalist of the year and The Society of Editors financial journalist of the year awards. He contributes news, investigative reports and comment to the Independent titles plus a daily column in the Evening Standard.
Wednesday 30 May 2012
Michael Woodford, the whistleblower who exposed a massive fraud at camera maker Olympus shortly after being made chief executive, yesterday won a multi-million pound, out-of-court settlement in a dramatic, last-minute deal.
The two sides agreed terms in the dying minutes before an employment tribunal was set to release witness statements which could have thrown a fresh and damaging new light on the activities of the Japanese technology giant.
Media from around the world have convened on the drab tribunal room in London's Docklands to hear the case and get further details on one of the biggest corporate scandals to have hit Japan in recent years.
The case was adjourned twice on Monday, scheduled to start again at 10am yesterday, only to be postponed until the two sides announced a deal just before 11am.
Reports suggested the two sides were closing in on a deal at around £10m but neither would disclose details.
Mr Woodford, 51, had 44 months left to run on his contract when he was fired.
He had been suing for unfair dismissal under UK whistleblowing legislation, saying the case should be tried in Britain because he remained a director of the UK business and spent most of his time here despite running a Japanese corporation.
Mr Woodford was sacked at a board meeting and ordered to give up his company computer and mobile phone and vacate his company apartment on the spot. He was told to get a bus to the airport and return straight to the UK.
Instead, fearing for his safety after media reports suggested organised crime might be involved, he held a secret meeting with a journalist in a Tokyo park and handed over his evidence of the fraud and cover up. He realised that publicising his situation was the best way to maximise his safety.
Olympus said he was fired for not understanding its culture. Tsuyoshi Kikawa, chairman at the time, described his public questioning of the company as "aberrant" and "unforgiveable". He and many more board members have since resigned.
Olympus eventually admitted covering up loss-making securities in the Cayman Islands and other tax havens since the early 1990s.
Judge G Foxwell said he was pleased the case had not gone to the full five day hearing that had been scheduled.
"I congratulate the parties. It is in everyone's interest to see this resolved by agreement", he said.
Mr Woodford said: "I hope it helps Olympus move forward and also my own life and family. Hopefully, today is a closure – a line has been drawn."
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