Investors approve new board for Olympus

By Kyoko Hasegawa ,AFP

TOKYO — The ousted former boss of Olympus who exposed a US$1.7 billion cover-up scandal threatened court action Friday after the firm’s choices for a new board were approved at a heated shareholders meeting. Angry investors shouted and peppered management with questions about the scandal, as one shareholder proposed that the embattled firm’s whistle-blowing former chief Michael Woodford be reinstated, which was later rejected. During the tense meeting in Tokyo, executives rebuffed the Briton’s demand to know why he was sacked six months ago, shortly before exposing a scheme that saw huge losses moved off the firm’s balance sheet.The ensuing scandal led to the arrest of former top executives at the firm, including the president. “Shame on you,” Woodford repeatedly told management as a majority of shareholders approved the new 11-member board. He later told reporters he would take the matter to court “to make this meeting illegitimate because they failed to answer the questions” about Olympus’ accounts. A hearing had already been scheduled in Britain for the first week of May, Woodford added, later saying he was also considering legal action in Japan. Woodford said they had rejected a “fantastic” Japanese businessman with international experience whom he and foreign investors recommended.

However the firm’s shares jumped 6.36 percent on the board change to end at 1,280 yen on Friday, several months after the camera and medical equipment maker narrowly avoided a delisting from Tokyo’s bourse. With the bulk of Olympus shares held by large Japanese institutional investors, the board had been expected to be approved. But the nominees sparked anger among some foreign investors who argued their connections to major Japanese banks — also Olympus creditors — was a conflict of interest, while they also had little experience running the company. The vote saw among others Yasuyuki Kimoto, a former senior managing director of Sumitomo Mitsui Banking, elected chairman and Hideaki Fujizuka, a former executive officer of Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, become a director. Hiroyuki Sasa, a 30-year Olympus veteran, was elected president, saying on Friday that his mission was to restore its “destroyed brand image” and boost public confidence “as soon as possible.” On Friday, Olympus President Shuichi Takayama apologized to investors, bowing deeply with other directors, before they stepped down.