Crisis grows as FBI probe hits Olympus

Steve Dinneen
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JUST when it looked like things could not get any worse for stricken camera-maker Olympus, its shares were rocked again by news the FBI will probe its controversial advisory payments.

Its stock tumbled a further 11.5 per cent in trading yesterday to hit ¥1,099 – a 55 per cent fall in the space of just two weeks.

Ex-chief executive Michael Woodford, who was axed less than two weeks ago, went public with his concerns over what he says are inexplicably high advisory fees paid in relation to the takeover of a British firm.

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) in the UK is already understood to be conducting its own preliminary investigations into the scandal, which has rocked one of Japan’s most recognisable firms and shone a light on its controversial management structure.

Payments amounting to $687m were paid to offshore-based advisers in the wake of Olympus’ $2.2bn takeover of medical equipment-maker Gyrus in 2008. The fee is the largest on record.

Olympus acknowledges it made the payment and denies any wrongdoing. It has not explained why it agreed to a fee that amounted to close to a third of the value of the takeover when such fees normally come to about one per cent.

The firm denied Woodford’s claim that it switched auditors from KPMG to Ernst & Young in 2009 because of a disagreement on the accounting for the acquisition.

A string of investment banks including Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan have suspended their ratings on the firm in light of the allegations.