Olympus – A $1.7 Billion Dollar Fraud

One of the best television programmes on business matters was surely the recently broadcast documentary on the fraud at Olympus (BBC TV 4 Storyville under the title “A $1.7 Billion Dollar Fraud” – available on I-Player for the next few weeks).

This was the story of Englishman Michael Woodford who was made President of Japanese public company Olympus Corporation, a large manufacturer of optical equipment (revenue $10 billion and 40,000 employees).  Although he had worked for the company for many years, he had never learned to speak or read Japanese. But his abilities in restructuring the European operations of the company made him the choice for President as it was seen too difficult for the conservative Japanese managers to tackle some of the company’s problems.

But in 2011 a report in Japanese magazine FACTA indicated that there had been some very odd financial transactions. For example, they purchased well respected UK company Gyrus but paid a wildly excessive “commission” fee of $687 million to two firms one of which was registered in the Cayman Islands. In addition they had purchased three very small companies for a total of $965 million without any obvious justification.

When Woodford attempted to find out more about these deals he was met with stone walling by other board members and was then fired.

It subsequently transpired, after Woodford refused to keep quiet and the press and regulatory authorities took up the matter that these deals were in fact designed to conceal losses within the company and this financial fraud had been going on for very many years. The previous President and others were implicated and subsequently prosecuted.

The television programme contained lengthy interviews with Woodford and some of the other players and included the public press conferences held by the company where they consistently denied any wrongdoing. It provided a wonderful insight into the operations and business climate of Japanese companies where concealing losses by financial manipulation was seen as being for the good of the company and was known to be a common practice.

A programme well worth viewing.

Incidentally Olympus is not just a camera company but operates in medical and industrial sectors. But its cameras are certainly good products and this writer recently purchased an Olympus Stylus 1 – a digital compact camera. It fits in a big pocket but gives you much superior still photos to a phone camera. It also can be used to shoot videos and the one on shareholder rights that ShareSoc recently issued was produced using it – see  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=REu23z49JjQ&feature=youtu.be .

Roger Lawson

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