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Olympus whistleblower eyes movie deal with le Carré sons

Former CEO at Olympus Corporation Michael Woodford speaks with a Reuters reporter in London November 22, 2012. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor
Former CEO at Olympus Corporation Michael Woodford speaks with a Reuters reporter in London November 22, 2012. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

By Kirstin Ridley

LONDON (Reuters) - Michael Woodford, the former CEO-turned whistleblower of Japan's Olympus, is close to signing a movie deal with the British film production company run by the sons of spy thriller author John le Carré.

Woodford, summarily fired last year after raising the alarm over $1.7 billion of shady Olympus payments, said he had yet to sign the deal with The Ink Factory, noting there was also interest from other parties.

But he told Reuters: "I probably will commit to this because I like the way they do things."

John le Carré is the nom de plume of David Cornwell, the spy-turned-author. Two of his sons, Simon and Los Angeles-based Stephen, founded The Ink Factory in 2010. About half their work is based on le Carré classics.

If they strike a deal with Woodford, additional production and finance partners could be brought on board.

Woodford met the Cornwells through his work with human rights charity Reprieve, which is run by a Cornwell sister-in- law. "She said: 'You must talk to Michael'. So I did," Simon said. "It's an amazing story and he's a fascinating man."

Woodford, who rose through the ranks at Olympus over 30 years to become its first foreign CEO, was fired two weeks into the job in October 2011 after persistently warning about corruption at the top echelons of the camera and medical equipment maker.

With friends warning him that "yakuza" gangsters might be involved, Woodford fled Japan and spent months in England looking over his shoulder. Those links have never been proved.

But as prosecutors around the world investigated, Olympus shares crashed and the board eventually resigned. Three former executives and the company itself pleaded guilty in September to charges related to a cover-up in Japan's worst corporate scandal. They face up to 10 years in jail.

Woodford said he had no strong feelings about who should play his part in an episode of his life he says continues to haunt him for the trauma and sense of personal betrayal.

But he noted dryly that British actor Colin Firth would need to do something about his full head of hair - and put on a businessman's pot belly.

BOOK TAKES ITS TOLL

Meanwhile, pre-orders on his memoir, "Exposure: Inside the Olympus Scandal", which is due to hit the UK high street this week, have pushed it into second place on online retailer Amazon's business biographies and company history rankings.

But writing the book took its toll, he says. Woodford, who is known for his doggedness, fell out with the ghost writer and took on the project himself, rising before 5am and scribbling away until 10pm every night for the best part of three months.

"It was almost worse than the experience itself," he says. He describes in the book the sleeping pills and alcohol he consumed to re-charge. "(The book) ... nearly killed me. I nearly got divorced for a second time."

Elements of his story had to be left out of the book, he says, because of the risk of compromising investigations. Three lawyers scanned it, partly for any unproven allegations.

Woodford, who agreed a 10 million pound ($16 million) out-of-court settlement after suing Olympus for unfair dismissal, remains on the corporate governance lecture circuit and works as a consultant on corporate Japan.

But his passions remain his charities: road safety and human rights. His teenage son and daughter, he says, know he will give most of his money away. One thing he is unlikely to return to immediately, however, is the boardroom.

"I have no appetite for sitting in a room and watching 150 power point slides, filled with corporate mediocrity and corporate politics - I have no stomach for that at all," he said. "At the moment, I am telling this story and I don't think you can run a company while you are talking about corporate governance and writing a book."

($1 = 0.6276 British pounds)

($1 = 82.3850 Japanese yen)

(Editing by Mark Potter)

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