Dec. 21 (Bloomberg) -- A former Singapore banker who allegedly helped Olympus Corp. engage in what U.S. prosecutors said was a $1.7 billion accounting fraud was arrested in California.
Chan Ming Fon was arrested in Los Angeles yesterday and faces U.S. fraud charges in New York, Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney in New York City, said in a statement. Chan, a citizen of Taiwan who lives in Singapore, made an initial appearance in federal court in Los Angeles yesterday.
Olympus, a Tokyo-based camera and endoscope maker, restated five years of earnings last year and took a $1.3 billion cut in its net assets after admitting it paid inflated fees on takeovers and overpaid for three Japanese companies to conceal past investment losses. On Sept. 25, former Olympus executives including ex-Chairman Tsuyoshi Kikukawa pleaded guilty in Japan to hiding losses in one of Japan’s biggest frauds.
“Chan Ming Fon was handsomely paid to play an international shell game with hundreds of millions of dollars of assets in order to allow Olympus to keep a massive accounting fraud going for years, duping its auditors and shareholders,” Bharara said in the statement.
The 13-year accounting fraud at the world’s biggest maker of endoscopes was exposed last year by former President Michael Woodford, who was dismissed in October 2011 after publicly questioning fees paid by Olympus for takeovers.
Olympus later said it attempted to conceal past losses by inflating fees to advisers on the $2.1 billion acquisition of London-listed Gyrus Group Plc in 2008 and overpaying for three Japanese companies.
According to U.S. prosecutors, Chan’s involvement in the scheme ran from 2004 to 2010. He worked as a vice president at financial institutions that prosecutors didn’t identify. One of his responsibilities was to manage a Cayman Islands entity called SG Bond Plus Fund that purportedly held Olympus funds invested in government bonds and other secure investments, prosecutors said.
At the direction of Olympus executives, Chan transferred the portfolio to an Olympus-controlled entity called Easterside Investments Ltd, prosecutors said. Easterside, based in the British Virgin Islands, liquidated the bonds and used the money to repay an undisclosed, outstanding loan, they said.
“These improper transfers and the concealed repayment of the loan allowed Olympus to present a significantly stronger financial condition of itself to its auditor, and ultimately, its investors,” Bharara said.
Chan also submitted false records about the portfolio’s value to Olympus’ outside auditor, prosecutors said. Confronted by agents of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation this week, he “confessed” that he was paid more than $10 million for “purportedly investing money on behalf of Olympus,” Bharara said.
Chan is accused of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
Founded in 1919 as a microscope and thermometer maker, Olympus produced its first camera in 1936 and a predecessor to the modern-day endoscope in 1950, according to its website. The company controls 75 percent of the global market for endoscopes, instruments doctors use to peer inside the body to help diagnose disease.
The case is U.S. v. Chan Ming Fon, 12-mag-3307, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
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