Ousted Woodford launches Olympus lawsuit

LONDON Thu Mar 1, 2012 10:24pm IST

Former Olympus President and CEO Michael Woodford speaks to the media at a news conference in London February 16, 2012. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly/Files

Former Olympus President and CEO Michael Woodford speaks to the media at a news conference in London February 16, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Finbarr O'Reilly/Files

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LONDON (Reuters) - Michael Woodford, the ousted Olympus chief executive who blew the whistle on one of Japan's most high-profile frauds, vowed he would hold his former employer to account as he kicked off his legal battle for wrongful dismissal in London on Thursday.

"I found wrongdoing, I raised that wrongdoing and for doing that I was dismissed ... in a way in which I'll never forget," he told a small throng of reporters gathered outside the tribunal building in east London.

"(I was) thrown out of my apartment and told to get the bus to the airport. We now know why ... I'm looking today to hold Olympus to account."

A 30-year Olympus (7733.T) veteran, Woodford was fired after questioning around $1.7 billion of dubious deals that top executives later admitted were fraudulent. To date, seven people have been arrested in Japan, including former chairman Tsuyoshi Kikukawa and former vice-president Hisashi Mori.

Woodford, the former president of Olympus and a rare British chief executive of a Japanese company, had a blazing row with Kikukawa and Mori over the deals and was unanimously fired by the board two weeks later, last October.

Olympus President Shuici Takayama has said the company dismissed Woodford because of his unilateral decision-making and bypassing of consultation.

Woodford, a self-proclaimed "loud-mouth", who worked his way up Olympus from UK salesman and spent much of his career in Britain, promptly fled Japan after being told by people he trusted that his safety might be at risk.

Woodford launched a one-man campaign to alert authorities in Japan, the United States and Britain to the scandal, while urging reporters to investigate money trails.

But he failed in his campaign to be reinstated as CEO, blaming cosy ties between its disgraced management and big Japanese shareholders.

His four-year CEO contract ran until June 2015, although he could claim for up to ten years lost employment. Any payout could reach tens of millions of pounds.

Thursday's proceedings were closed to reporters, although a full hearing is expected to be scheduled in the next few months -- unless Woodford and the Japanese endoscope and camera maker reach a settlement first.

"Do the right thing. Treat me fairly," Woodford told Olympus and key creditor and shareholder Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group (SMFG) (8316.T). "But if you want to go through the legal process, so be it. I'm very happy for the courts and public opinion to judge my case."

Any attempt by Olympus to avoid further damage from the scandal by settling with Woodford is likely to be shortlived.

Woodford is penning a book in both English and Japanese about experiences he has likened to a thriller by U.S. author John Grisham.

(Editing by David Hulmes and Elaine Hardcastle)

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