Olympus under fire as major investor demands minutes of deal meetings

 

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The Independent Online

One of Olympus's largest shareholders has demanded the under-fire group release the minutes related to a series of controversial takeovers, or potentially face court action.

The camera and precision equipment company has also come under further pressure from the chief executive it ousted last month. Michael Woodford made a series of demands to an extraordinary board meeting over the weekend, including non-Japanese representation on the independent committee set up to scrutinise the deals.

Southeastern Asset Management, which holds a 5 per cent stake in Olympus and has been a shareholder in the company since 2004, has requested access to board minutes related to the acquisitions of Gyrus, where Olympus paid a record $687m (£429m) in advisory fees, as well as its acquisitions of Altris, Humalabo and News Chef.

Olympus has so far denied the request, saying the minutes may contain non-public information. The investor countered that it did not want non-public information "so we request that these documents be publicly released immediately". It added it was "initiating action to compel production of the minutes". This action is so far just a formal request, but it is understood that if Olympus does not respond, Southeastern would seek a court order.

The investor has publicly called for an independent auditor to investigate the takeovers, overseen by an independent committee. Yesterday it published a letter sent to the board, saying its was "seriously concerned" there had not yet been any talk of bringing in a third-party accountancy.

This weekend, Mr Woodford made representations to the board through his lawyers to be heard at its extraordinary meeting. These included a call for foreign representation on the independent committee to oversee the interests of the non-Japanese shareholders.

This marked the latest in a series of crisis board meetings since Mr Woodford made public his "serious governance concerns" surrounding the four takeover deals after he was sacked after two weeks as chief executive. Mr Woodford once more expressed his concerns over the independence and effectiveness of the independent committee that Olympus set up to scrutinise the four controversial deals.

Yesterday, the Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda heaped more pressure on the Olympus board to clear up the controversial payments to the financial advisers on the Gyrus deal, saying he feared the country's image would be tarnished.

Mr Woodford called the comments "extraordinary", before adding: "I'm extremely reassured by this, it seems there is hope for Japan yet." He also pledged to continue his campaign undaunted. "Until the truth is out, I will be relentless," he said.

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