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Exclusive: Olympus says readying legal steps vs execs

Japan's disgraced Olympus Corp is preparing to take legal action, including possible criminal complaints, against any executives found responsible for the accounting scandal engulfing the firm, according to an internal staff email.

The memo, obtained by Reuters on Wednesday, was sent to Olympus employees the previous day by the firm's new president, Shuichi Takayama, who also vowed to restore public trust in the once-proud maker of cameras and endoscopes.

At a meeting with more than three dozen creditors on Wednesday, Olympus apologized and outlined its financial position, adding it aimed to keep its stock market listing and meet a December 14 deadline to announce its earnings.

Its two biggest lenders expressed their readiness at that meeting to support the firm, sources with knowledge of the matter said.

Japan's securities watchdog, police and prosecutors are probing the 92-year-old company, which admitted last week it hid investment losses for decades using funds from M&A deals.

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation is also looking into the case, while Britain's Serious Fraud Office has launched a formal probe, said a source, who declined to be named as he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. A third-party panel appointed by Olympus to investigate the scandal is expected to report its findings early next month.

We will wait for the third-party panel to report, and we are preparing to take firm legal action, including criminal complaints, against any manager it finds responsible, Takayama wrote in the November 15 email. The email did not name specific executives.

Investors are speculating that several Olympus officials will bear the brunt of any punishment for the scandal, hoping the company itself will avoid the ultimate market sanction of having its shares delisted from the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

As long as market participants think Olympus will not be delisted, the stock will continue to rise. The market is buying back what they sold last week, said Mitsushige Akino, chief fund manager at Ichiyoshi Investment Management.

Olympus' shares, which lost as much as 80 percent of their value after the scandal broke last month, closed up more than 15 percent on Wednesday at 740 yen in heavy turnover.

In a sign that regulators are getting serious after a slow start, Japan's Securities Exchange and Surveillance Commission (SESC) is considering recommending criminal charges against those involved in wrongdoing at Olympus, a source familiar with the matter has told Reuters.

The source said the SESC might also urge that Olympus be fined for false financial reports, a move that could allow the company to stay listed, although that outcome is not assured.

The Bank of Japan also is trying to gather information from related financial firms about Olympus' past transactions, central bank Governor Masaaki Shirakawa said.

It is regrettable that doubts have arisen about the transparency and fairness of corporate management. It is vital that accurate information be disclosed promptly, he said.

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