Olympus gets new board; ex-CEO threatens to have result annulled

Written by Reuters | Tokyo | Updated: Apr 21 2012, 05:56am hrs
Olympus Suzuki says company could not answer why Woodford was fired

Shareholders of Olympus voted in a new board on Friday but the firms British ex-CEO, whose dismissal six months ago unveiled the biggest scandal in corporate Japan for decades, threatened to have the result annulled.

At the meeting, which some hoped would draw a line under the scandal, Japanese institutions and Olympus lenders, suppliers and customers approved restated financial accounts and voted in new management nominated by the current, discredited board, all 11 of whom stood down.

Michael Woodford was sacked by Olympus in October after he queried staggeringly high advisory fees paid in past acquisitions, triggering a probe that uncovered a $1.7-billion accounting fraud stretching back over more than a decade. Olympus said then it fired Woodford for gross misconduct.

Foreign investors, who own 25%-30% of the camera maker and the worlds biggest manufacturer of endoscopes used for internal medical examinations, had hoped the scandal would shake up a deep-rooted culture of cosy ties between banks and boardrooms.

Woodford, who has said he feared for his life during the early days of the scandal and has since rushed to print a book Terminated about the affair, arrived by taxi ahead of Fridays meeting in a large Tokyo hotel function room.

Today is the day the new Olympus is supposed to start. Its a mockery. Its why the world looks on and continues to think this world works in a completely different way, its Alice in Wonderland, he said.

The meeting began promptly at 10 am (0100 GMT) with Takayama and the entire board standing before shareholders and bowing deeply in a traditional gesture of public apology.

But, after 90 minutes, Woodford stood and said the boards earlier refusal to answer a written question about the reasons for his dismissal meant shareholders could ask the courts to invalidate the meeting potentially leaving the company without a new management board.

Olympus senior executive managing officer Masataka Suzuki earlier told the meeting the company could not answer the question about why Woodford was fired as this was part of an ongoing legal case. Woodford is taking legal action against his former employer in Britain, seeking 10 years salary for wrongful dismissal.