Japanese officials are investigating an apparent $4.9 billion hole in the accounts of Olympus Corp as well as possible involvement of organized crime in an accounting scandal engulfing the firm, the New York Times said on Friday.
Olympus, a maker of cameras and medical equipment, has admitted to hiding losses for decades from investors through improper accounting, but it has yet to disclose the extent of this concealment and what writedowns it will now need to take.
Olympus made payouts amounting to many times the losses it sought to hide, and investigators suspect much of the additional money went to crime groups, the New York Times said, citing a memo prepared by investigators.
It said the memo had been circulated at a recent meeting of officials from Japan's Securities and Exchange Surveillance Commission (SESC), the Tokyo Prosecutors Office and the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department.
An SESC official was not immediately available for comment on Friday.
The newspaper quoted the memo as saying Olympus had paid a total of 481 billion yen ($6.25 billion) through questionable acquisition payments, investments and advisory fees stretching from 2000 to 2009, but only 105 billion yen ($1.36 billion) had been booked in its financial statements, leaving 376 billion yen ($4.88 billion) unaccounted for.
So far, Olympus has admitted to improperly accounting for only part of $1.3 billion in payments linked to mergers and acquisitions going back to 2006, though an independent panel commissioned by the firm to investigate the matter was still trying to get to the bottom of the issue.
Olympus has lost about 70 percent of its market value since the scandal broke last month, though investors are hoping the firm can avoid being delisted from the Tokyo Stock Exchange.
The stock fell about 4 percent in morning trade on Friday.
Delisting would effectively cut Olympus off from equity capital markets, constraining its funding and making it harder for its lenders to keep supporting the firm in its battle to avoid having to sell off its core businesses.
The implications of these allegations, if they're discovered to have a lot of truth in them, would make it very difficult for the banks, said Brian Waterhouse, senior bank analyst with CLSA in Tokyo.
It effectively ties their hands in being able to provide further finance to a company who is found to be deliberately associating with 'anti-social elements', he said, referring to the Japanese euphemism used to describe organized crime.
($1 = 76.985 Japanese Yen)
(Reporting by Linda Sieg, writing by Mark Bendeich, editing by Richard Pullin)