Olympus Tokyo Offices Raided as Prosecutors Investigate $1.7 Billion Fraud
Japanese prosecutors raided offices of Olympus Corp. (7733) in Tokyo, more than a month after the camera maker admitted to a $1.7 billion accounting fraud that hid investment losses over more than a decade.
Officials from the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office and police entered Olympus offices in Tokyo today, the company confirmed in a statement. Footage from public broadcaster NHK showed investigators entering the building of three companies Olympus used in its scheme.
Olympus last week restated more than five years of earnings to avoid being automatically delisted from the Tokyo Stock Exchange after admitting to the 13-year cover-up. The company inflated fees to advisers on the 2008 acquisition of Gyrus Group Plc and overpaid in purchasing three Japanese companies with the intention of increasing goodwill, an independent panel investigating the fraud said Dec. 6.
Prosecutors were probably waiting “until the company completed filing restatements, which saved it from automatic delisting,” said Mitsushige Akino, who oversees about $600 million in Tokyo at Ichiyoshi Investment Management Co. “I’m expecting a strict investigation to be carried out.”
Olympus fell as much as 5 percent in Tokyo to 1,012 yen and changed hands at 1,048 yen at 2 p.m. The company’s market value has tumbled 58 percent since the Oct. 14 dismissal of former Chief Executive Officer Michael Woodford, who had challenged former Chairman Tsuyoshi Kikukawa and the Tokyo-based company’s board about inflated takeover payments.
How Japan handles the scandal has wider implications for investment in the country, according to Josh Shores, a London- based principal at Southeastern Asset Management Inc. The Memphis, Tennessee-based fund is Olympus’s biggest overseas shareholder, data compiled by Bloomberg show.
Some “very late” raid of Olympus “which we were anticipating in late October as a buy signal should not be viewed as such now,” said Amir Anvarzadeh, the Singapore-based manager for Asian equity sales at BGC Partners. “This could very well be a delayed reaction by Japan’s bureaucrats to finally stamp their authority on what looks to be an open and shut case of financial fraud.”
The world’s biggest maker of endoscopes was being searched for suspected violation of the Financial Instruments and Exchange Act, according to NHK.
Kikukawa’s home is also being searched, Kyodo News reported, without citing anyone. Kyodo also said the prosecutors are searching the offices of three Japanese companies acquired by Olympus.
Olympus admitted Nov. 8 Kikukawa, Hisashi Mori, fired as executive vice president, and Hideo Yamada, a former company auditor, colluded to hide losses from securities investments in the 1990s.
Three former Olympus chairmen and at least three senior aides were “rotten to the core,” according to the Dec. 6 findings of an independent investigative panel. Others “involved in the fraudulent accounting one way or the other” should be “fully eliminated” from the company, it said.
The company’s corporate culture created “yes men” who failed to stop or denounce senior managers, the panel said. The failure of Olympus’s corporate governance eroded all Japanese companies’ credibility and highlighted the need to break from a tradition of unthinking deference to superiors, it said.
The panel report traced a global network of mostly Japanese advisers who used offshore companies in the Cayman Islands and British Virgin Islands to hide impaired financial securities and channel funds to conceal those losses.
The company began making financial investments after 1985 as a strong yen hurt operating profit, the panel said. When Japan’s stock-market bubble burst at the end of 1989, it purchased high-risk products and structured bonds in an effort to recoup the loss. In late 1990, the company had a little less than 100 billion yen of unrealized losses, and this swelled to 118 billion yen by 2003, it said.
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