December 20, 2012 11:50 pm

Ex-banker charged in US for Olympus fraud

A former Taiwanese banker has been arrested and charged in the US for allegedly helping Olympus conceal a $1.7bn accounting fraud through improper transfers.

Chan Ming Fon, the former banker, was arrested in Los Angeles on Thursday morning and was expected to be presented in court later that day.

The criminal charges filed in New York are the first by US authorities and follow guilty pleas in September by three former Olympus executives, including its one-time chairman, who were charged by Japanese officials.

“Chan Ming Fon was handsomely paid to play an international shell game with hundreds of millions of dollars of assets in order to allow Olympus to keep a massive accounting fraud going for years, duping its auditors and its shareholders,” said Preet Bharara, the US attorney in Manhattan.

Prosecutors allege that in exchange for helping to conceal the fraud through numerous improper transactions, Mr Chan was paid $10m.

Mr Chan, 50, could not be reached for comment. Authorities allege he told agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation this week that he withheld information from Olympus’s auditor.

Olympus’s accounting came under scrutiny last year when Michael Woodford, Olympus’s British former president, exposed the accounting problems after he was fired by the company. Mr Woodford has not been accused of involvement in the fraud and successfully sued Olympus over his dismissal.

Olympus later admitted that managers secretly moved $1.3bn of securities-related investment losses off its books as far back as the 1990s. The optical equipment maker also admitted to using acquisitions as a cover to hide the losses.

According to the criminal complaint, from 2004 through 2010, at the direction of Olympus managers, Mr Chan helped the company disguise its losses. In one alleged scheme, Mr Chan allegedly transferred an investment portfolio of bonds he managed to an Olympus-controlled entity called Easterside, which then liquidated the bonds.

Easterside then allegedly used hundreds of millions of dollars from the sale to repay secret loans owed to financial institutions. Prosecutors allege Mr Chan submitted false documents to Olympus’s auditor indicating Olympus had at one point ¥60bn invested with him.

Authorities allege the transfers enabled Olympus to conceal the loans and present a stronger financial picture to the company’s auditors and shareholders.

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