Olympus whistleblower Michael Woodford speaks out


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The Independent Online

Michael Woodford, who blew the whistle on an accounting scandal at Olympus, appeared at its shareholders' meeting and demanded to know why he was fired as chief executive.

The Japanese camera and medical-equipment maker was seeking shareholder approval for new management after executives behind a cover-up of massive investment losses were forced out.

Mr Woodford was fired in October after he blew the whistle on Olympus' dubious accounting.

Tokyo-based Olympus has acknowledged it hid 117.7 billion yen (1.5 billion US dollars) in investment losses dating back to the 1990s.

The company declined to answer Mr Woodford's question, saying the issue was pending litigation in Britain where Mr Woodford is contesting his dismissal.

The company proposals, including the approval of new management, were all passed without problem by enthusiastic clapping from about 1,000 people attending the three-hour meeting, despite spurts of shouting from naysayers.

Olympus had a solid lock over investor votes because of Japanese institutional investors, such as banks, and other support through a "cross-shareholding" system, in which companies own shares in each other.

Reporters watched the shareholders meeting on monitors in a separate room at the same Tokyo hotel.

The new 11-member board has eight outside board members, including a former executive at Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp, Olympus' main bank, as chairman. The key executives suspected of engineering the deception have resigned.

A handful of angry shareholders got up and demanded to know why the company had allowed the scandal to happen.

One suggested Mr Woodford be reinstated on the board, along with Masaharu Hamada, an Olympus employee who has won a court case for being unfairly penalised as a whistleblower on an issue unrelated to the cover up of losses. The company is appealing.

"They have a high sense of ethics," said the shareholder, identified by only his surname Yamaguchi.

That proposal was soundly defeated by clapping.

Mr Woodford, a Briton and a rare foreigner to lead a major Japanese company, has already conceded he will not be making a comeback at Olympus.

But he said he would contest the company's refusal to answer his question as violating a law in Japan that protects shareholders. He did not elaborate what he planned to do.

"Hundreds of billions of dollars in shareholder value have already been lost by this scandal," said Mr Woodford, referring to the plunge in the company's share price.

He had previously criticised the shareholders meeting as a Kabuki-like charade.

Mr Woodford also criticised how two old-guard executives remained with the company.

"How dare you. Shame on you," he shouted, his voice shaking with anger.