A panel investigating more than $1bn in controversial payments made by Olympus said it had not found any evidence that the payments involved organised crime.

The Japanese camera maker, whose shares have dropped more than 70 per cent since the scandal erupted last month, said the third-party panel put out the statement following a request from the company to clarify its findings on yakuza involvement.

Speculation has grown that some of the payments Olympus made to unknown advisers may have ended up in the hands of criminal gangs. A unit from the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department’s organised crime division has also joined the investigation, Reuters reported on Friday.

Olympus admitted this month that it had used large payments related to the acquisitions of Gyrus, the UK medical equipment maker, and three Japanese companies, to cover up more than $1bn in securities-related losses dating back to the 1990s.

The cover-up – details of which emerged after Olympus fired Michael Woodford as chief executive in mid-October after he confronted executives about the payments – forced the company to delay its half-year results announcement in order to take into account the results of the third-party investigation.

Mr Woodford, who is meeting with the panel in London on Monday, is due to arrive in Tokyo midweek to meet police, prosecutors and financial regulators over the affair. The Briton left Japan because of concerns that organised crime groups might have been involved in the cover-up.

Mr Woodford told the Financial Times that the panel’s statement, released two hours before he met them in London, undermined their credibility since establishing – or ruling out – links to organised crime would require “thousands of hours” of forensic work.

Olympus

“Why put out a statement halfway through the investigation?” said Mr Woodward, who will attend Olympus’s board meeting in Tokyo on Friday.

The scandal has raised questions about who at the company authorised or knew about the cover-up, which spanned nearly two decades.

Tsuyoshi Kikukawa, former president and chairman, who was reputed to rule Olympus with an iron hand, told the panel he only found out about the losses long after he became president, in 2001, according to Kyodo News.

However, Hisashi Mori, former vice-president, who is widely seen to have been one of the key people behind the cover-up, told the same panel that Mr Kikukawa was also involved in devising the schemes Olympus used to hide its losses, according to Kyodo.

Facta, the Japanese magazine that broke the story of Olympus’ cover-up, notes in its latest edition that, in addition to the Olympus executives, several former securities company employees, bankers, fund managers and a number of other outsiders co-operated with the cover-up by providing special purpose vehicles in the Caymans and Bermuda, and other vehicles through which Olympus transferred its losses.

Although Mr Kikukawa and Mr Mori worked in the finance department of Olympus, “it is hard to believe that they would think up such a complicated scheme,” the article says.

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