Former Olympus Corp CEO Michael Woodford said on Wednesday that Tokyo police were best able to get to the truth behind one of Japan's biggest accounting scandals, as speculation mounts of possible links to organized crime.
Woodford, who blew the whistle on accounting tricks at the firm after his sacking a month ago, also said on arrival at Tokyo's Narita international airport that Olympus needed new management but should be allowed to remain a listed company.
Woodford, a Briton, is returning to Japan for the first time since his sacking on October 14. He is due on Thursday to meet prosecutors, regulators and police investigating the scandal, in which Olympus has admitted to hiding losses for two decades and to using merger and acquisition payments to aid the cover-up.
The metropolitan police to me is the one that probably has the capability to investigate this in the right way, he told reporters after his flight from London touched down.
Woodford on Friday will also attend his first meeting of the board since it convened to oust him. Still a director of the camera and endoscope maker despite his sacking as CEO, Woodford had refused to return to Japan earlier, voicing safety concerns.
I was at risk because we didn't know who received the money. We still don't, he said, referring to the string of unusual M&A payments now under investigation.
I hope my colleagues can see that the easiest thing (for me) would have been ... have a nice quiet life and go on a yacht around the Mediterranean. But I have gone through hell and back.
Speculation of organized-crime links has swirled around the Olympus scandal. The firm on Monday said a third-party panel it set up to investigate the matter had, so far, found no evidence that organized crime syndicates or yakuza gangsters were involved in the M&A payments.
The payments included a massive $687 million advisory fee paid mostly to an obscure Cayman Islands firm.
The panel is due to report its findings in early December.
Woodford has called for a thorough investigation of the transactions and for a clean sweep of top management but urged that its shares not be delisted, in part to help ensure full disclosure of information.
Be it with me or without me, Olympus needs new management, he said. I ask my fellow board members to have the dignity to accept the game is up.
Olympus has lost nearly two-thirds of its market value since Woodford publicly questioned a series of strange deals.
The 92-year-old company initially denied any wrongdoing but later admitted to hiding investment losses from investors since the 1990s and to using part of $1.3 billion in M&A payments made over the past five years to help in the concealment.
The company, also being probed by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations and Britain's Serious Fraud Office, risks being delisted from the Tokyo Stock Exchange over the scandal. This would effectively cut it off from equity capital markets and could put it under pressure to sell core businesses.
It is not yet clear if the architect of Woodford's ouster, former Chairman and President Tsuyoshi Kikukawa, who also remains a director, will also attend the Friday board meeting.
(Writing by Edmund Klamann; Editing by Mark Bendeich)