Olympus shares plunge on news of FBI investigation

 

The beleaguered precision equipment group Olympus came come under further pressure after it emerged that the US Federal Bureau of Investigation has begun an investigation into a controversial takeover deal.

The news sent its share price tumbling again. At one point, Olympus's stock fell to its lowest level in more than 13 years. It ended down 10.7 per cent at ¥1,099. The company has lost more than half of its value since it dismissed its British chief executive, Michael Woodford, 10 days ago. Reports emerged in the US that the FBI was scrutinising the $687m (£431m) in advisory fees Olympus paid to its financial adviser as part of a takeover in 2008. The Serious Fraud Office in the UK is also considering whether to investigate the payment.

The payment to advisers Axes America and Axam Investments was one of the "serious governance issues" that Mr Woodford raised to the board before he was ousted less than two weeks to the top job. After pressure from investors, the company said on Friday it would set up an independent committee to investigate the Gyrus deal. Yet Mr Woodford said that was "just a strategy to push everything into the distant future". In documents seen by The Independent, it emerged that the company called in an outside committee to investigate the payment as part of the deal to buy Gyrus, after a request from the board. The committee also looked at the deals to buy three companies, about which Mr Woodford had also raised concerns.

The report, dated May 2009, said that on both deals it "did not recognise any event that may be regarded as demonstrating that it was illegal or unjust for the directors of Olympus to pay the advisory fee, or the directors of Olympus breached their duty of care as a good manager".

Mr Woodford said this weekend that it had been the hardest week in his life, but added that some good will have come out of it if it changes corporate Japan "in just a small way".

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