Olympus Corp. rose the most in more than two months on optimism the Japanese camera maker will survive a delisting threat and after its auditors took legal action against executives over a $1.7 billion accounting fraud.
The company plans to overhaul management by April and is suing 19 current and former officials for hiding losses, it said in a statement today. Olympus will probably be fined by the Tokyo Stock Exchange, rather than expelled from the world’s second-biggest bourse, the Nikkei newspaper reported yesterday.
“It’s looking much more likely Olympus will keep its listing now,” said Mitsuo Shimizu, an equity analyst at Cosmo Securities Co. “By suing, the company is making it clear who was responsible for hiding losses,” which may help the TSE in its decision to let it remain publicly traded.
Olympus has been reeling since Michael Woodford blew the whistle on inflated takeover costs after he was fired as chief executive officer Oct. 14. The allegations forced the company to reveal a 13-year scheme to conceal soured investments dating back to the 1990s and raised concerns among investors and lawmakers over Japan’s corporate governance rules.
Olympus jumped 20 percent to 1,263 yen at the close on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, the biggest percentage gain since Oct. 27.
The company’s auditors filed the suit, which includes claims against six current Olympus directors, at the Tokyo District Court on Jan. 8, Olympus said in a statement today.
Directors involved in the scheme to hide investment losses over more than a decade caused 86 billion yen in damages to the company, according to the findings of an independent panel released today.
“We accept the report with sincerity,” Olympus President Shuichi Takayama said in a note to employees today. Takayama and other directors, whom the panel said played roles in the cover-up, won’t take a “leading role” in naming new directors and drafting revival plans, he said.
Olympus is seeking as much as 3.6 billion yen in damages from executives including ex-Chairman Tsuyoshi Kikukawa, it said. Takayama, who took over from Woodford, is being sued for as much as 500 million yen, the company said.
Former company auditor, Hideo Yamada, and Hisashi Mori, fired as executive director over his role, are being sued for 3.01 billion yen and 2.81 billion yen, respectively, it said.
Repeated attempts since the scandal broke to get the response of those involved, including visits to their homes, have failed.
The legal action “spurs optimism that the company will improve its management structure,” said Yoshihiro Okumura, who helps manage the equivalent of $365 million at Chiba-Gin Asset Management Co. in Tokyo. “It may accelerate Olympus’s moves to resolve its problems.”
The company last week said it plans to hold an emergency shareholder meeting as early as March at which current board members, including Takayama, will resign and investors will vote on new management.
The panel said three current company directors, Masataka Suzuki, Kazuhiro Watanabe and Shinichi Nishigaki, were not involved in the cover-up, according to the report released today. Woodford said he sent each of them a copy of the letters stating the takeover costs and a report from accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers that pointed out potential offenses by Olympus including false accounting.
‘Did Absolutely Nothing’
“All received my six letters and the condemning PWC report and each did absolutely nothing to intercede,” Woodford said in an e-mailed statement.
The Tokyo Stock Exchange is likely to let the company retain its listing and will fine it 10 million yen instead, the Nikkei reported. The TSE today said no final decision has been made.
The TSE put Olympus on a watchlist to be removed from the bourse after it admitted to inflating fees to advisers on the $2.1 billion acquisition of London-listed Gyrus Group Plc in 2008 and overpaying for three Japanese companies. The intention was to increase goodwill that would subsequently be written off to mask the investment losses, a separate independent panel investigating the fraud said last month.
That panel said it found a culture of “yes men” and a board that failed in its duty to stop a “rotten” core of executives from duping auditors, regulators and investors.
“If corporate governance is to mean anything in Japan, and for those who care about the future of Olympus, the only way forward is an entirely new board of directors untainted by the past scandal,” Woodford said.
Olympus’s biggest shareholder, Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group Inc., said after Japanese prosecutors raided the camera-maker’s offices last month that it would maintain support for the company. Southeastern Asset Management Inc., the company’s biggest overseas stockholder, and Harris Associates LP have said the entire board and all executives involved in the fraud must go.
The company “continues to suffer under shoddy corporate governance and an utterly discredited board,” Josh Shores, a London-based principal at Southeastern Asset, said in a Jan. 6 statement. “We maintain that the board should be replaced and a new board should oversee the company’s revival.”
The company lost about $5 billion of market capitalization to yesterday’s closing price since firing Woodford and was forced to restate more than five years of earnings last month to avoid an automatic delisting after admitting to the cover-up.
Olympus’s net assets fell by 105 billion yen to 46 billion yen after the restatement.
The company, also the world’s largest maker of endoscopes, faces criminal probes in the U.S. and U.K., as well as Japan, since Woodford made the takeover payments public in October.
Woodford also filed a case in the U.K. seeking damages for the remainder of his four-year contract and additional costs. The 51-year-old former CEO also abandoned efforts to regain control of Olympus after failing to gain support from Japanese shareholders.
Woodford last week said he may also sue in Japan.
“We’ll see suits and countersuits taking place in the next couple of weeks, if not months.” Eugene Tan, assistant professor of law at the Singapore Management University, said yesterday following Japanese media reports that the lawsuits had been filed. “It’s all part of the natural fallout to be expected with each party trying to stake their positions and to protect their legal interests.”