Michael Woodford, who is a British businessman that ousted as CEO of embattled Japanese camera and medical equipment maker, Olympus, in the month of October, resigned from the board of directors this week as a step toward winning shareholder approval of his plan to regain control of Olympus by forming an independent board. And Woodford has hired some high-powered lawyers to help him out.
According to Bloomberg, Woodford met with federal prosecutors, FBI investigators, and SEC officials in New York this week to discuss what he knows about a $2 billion acquisition of British medical equipment maker Gyrus Group by Olympus four years ago.
The late October revelation that Olympus had paid a whopping $687 million in M&A advisory fees to a pair of obscure financial services firms in connection with the acquisition led to an accounting and corporate governance scandal that has crippled the Tokyo-based company. Last month, the Am Law Daily reported on Olympus’s creation of a committee composed of former Japanese judges and prosecutors to probe the payments. That panel is expected to release its findings sometime before an earnings report that is due on December 14.
Woodford has also met with representatives of UK’s Serious Fraud Office and Japanese law enforcement officials conducting their own inquiries into the controversial payments, which some reports have suggested may be linked to Japanese crime syndicates. While Woodford has publicly said that only a criminal probe will unravel the mystery surrounding the illicit fees, Olympus has watched more than half its market value vanish and is scrambling to avoid being delisted on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.
In a recent interview with Reuters this week, Woodford said that he doesn’t want to see Olympus sold to any of several potential buyers. Instead, he would like to oust the company’s current board and appoint new management. Woodford also told Reuters that his mounting legal bills have begun to take a toll on him.
”They [his lawyers] are all being reasonable,” said Woodford. ”They understand I am not a corporation. But nevertheless, if you don’t have any income coming in, and you have school fees to pay…it is a heavy burden.”
Homer Moyer Jr., who is the founder of Miller & Chevalier’s international practice and a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act expert, is leading a team from the firm representing Woodford, who was fired by Olympus after he threatened to publicly expose the M&A fees at the heart of the scandal. Moyer did not respond to a request for comment on how he came to get the assignment. Other Miller & Chevalier attorneys that are working on the matter include litigation partner Andrew Wise, FCPA practice head James Tillen, and international trade counsel David Hardin.
Meanwhile, the Memphis-based Southeastern Asset Management, whose 5 percent state makes it Olympus’s largest foreign shareholder, has called for an emergency shareholders meeting and joined Woodford’s push for a new management. Andrew McCarroll, who is the general counsel for Southeastern, did not respond to a request for comment on whether his firm has fired outside counsel in the matter.