Michael Woodford, the ousted Olympus <7733.T> CEO, will next Monday bring his lawsuit for unfair dismissal for whistleblowing and discrimination against his former Japanese employer, in a case that could yield a record payout.
Woodford, who declined to comment ahead of the court hearing, is expected to sue for up to 10 years' lost salary in a multi-million pound claim - unless the camera-to-endoscope maker offers an acceptable settlement.
Few legal experts believe Olympus, which is struggling to draw a line under one of Japan's worst corporate scandals, has much to gain from the five-day hearing that will throw the spotlight back onto a $1.7 billion fraud.
"Interestingly, two-thirds of such claims are settled or withdrawn before the tribunal makes a judgment," noted Jo Keddie, a partner at law firm Winckworth Sherwood, adding that the highest UK award to date has been around 3.8 million pounds ($5.97 million).
By bringing a claim on the grounds of whistleblowing and discrimination in the employment tribunal in east London, Woodford's damages are unlimited, depending on whether he is likely ever to regain a career at global CEO level again.
Woodford was unanimously dismissed by the Olympus board last October, two weeks into the job as CEO, after persistently demanding answers from top executives about a string of obscure and hefty payments linked to acquisitions.
After the board decision to fire its first non-Japanese CEO, made during a meeting at which he was not allowed to speak, Woodford says he was told to vacate his Tokyo apartment, return his laptops and telephones and take the bus to the airport.
Olympus said Woodford was sacked because the 30-year company veteran failed to understand its management style and Japanese culture. But over the following weeks, regulators uncovered an accounting fraud stretching back over more than a decade.
Armed with a damning and high-level independent panel report slating "rotten" Olympus bosses as well as a report from auditor PwC - and against the backdrop of a clutch of arrests and an international investigation by U.S., Japanese and UK prosecutors - Woodford might appear to have a strong case.
But he first needs to show it can be heard in Britain.
"The tribunal will be carefully scrutinising where Mr Woodford was contractually employed and whether he was considered to be working in the UK at the time of his dismissal," Keddie noted.
"There is likely to be a forensic examination of the time spent by Mr Woodford in the UK and the scope of Olympus's UK business activities."
Woodford, who was Olympus's president for six months before also being handed the CEO role last October, has spent much of his career in Britain, where he owns an apartment in London and a home near Olympus's UK headquarters in Southend, southeastern England.
His Spanish wife Nuncy teaches locally in Southend and his two children attended nearby schools.
If the case is thrown out on jurisdiction grounds Woodford - who plans to publish an English book about experiences he has likened to a thriller by U.S. author John Grisham - can still bring a defamation suit in the High Court. ($1 = 0.6363 British pounds)
(Reporting by Kirstin Ridley; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle and Erica Billingham)