Woodford in Japan to face Olympus board

Former Olympus president Michael Woodford meets with reporters upon his arrival at Narita airport on November 23.

Story highlights

  • Michael Woodford, former president of Olympus, returns to Japan
  • He is due to meet police and face the fellow directors who fired him
  • Woodford was dismissed after helping to expose an accounting scandal
Michael Woodford, former president of Olympus, has returned to Japan for the first time since he helped expose a massive accounting scandal at the camera and medical equipment maker.
Mr Woodford, who was dismissed after questioning executives about more than $1bn in excessive acquisition-related payments, arrived in Tokyo on Wednesday for meetings with the police, the prosecutors and financial regulators.
He will also attend an Olympus board meeting scheduled for Friday where he will, for the first time since his dismissal, meet with fellow directors who unanimously fired him.
Mr Woodford's return to Tokyo comes amid a widening investigation into controversial payments made by Olympus, which have raised serious questions about its corporate governance and the possible involvement of organised crime groups.
The former Olympus president had pressed executives to explain why the company paid $687m in fees to an obscure advisory firm in connection with its $2.1bn acquisition of Gyrus, and who the money actually went to.
Mr Woodford also questioned the acquisition of three Japanese companies, which Olympus wrote down the value of by three quarters shortly after buying them.
Olympus admitted earlier this month that it had used the controversial payments to cover up past securities investment losses dating as far back as the 1990s.
The company identified Tsuyoshi Kikukawa, former chairman, Hisashi Mori, former deputy president and Hideo Yamada, company auditor, as having been involved in the cover-up. Mr Mori was dismissed by Olympus but remains as a director, together with Mr Kikukawa and Mr Yamada, who has offered to resign.
Mr Woodford left Japan immediately after he was dismissed by the board on October 14, out of concern for his personal safety, given the murky nature of the payments.
Tsuyoshi Kikukawa, former chairman, who resigned over the affair, blamed Mr Woodford's abrasive management style for his dismissal, despite praising the Briton only two weeks before his dismissal as showing "a great sensitivity and understanding of the different cultures across our global organisation".
The accounting scandal has triggered a 58 per cent fall in Olympus's share price. Olympus has until December 14 to submit its half-year results report, which was delayed due to the scandal, or face delisting from the Tokyo Stock Exchange.
Southeastern Asset Management, which has a 5 per cent stake in Olympus, is calling for Mr Kikukawa and Mr Yamada to resign as directors.
Mr Woodford told the Financial Times earlier this month he would be prepared to return to Japan and lead Olympus again if shareholders wanted him to.
Koji Miyata, a former Olympus director, is leading a campaign to reinstate Mr Woodford with an online petition that has been signed by more than 300 former and current employees.