* Fujitsu took no wrong steps in Nozoe resignation -chairman
* No plan to set up independent investigation panel-chairman (Recasts, adds quotes, background)
By Yumiko Nishitani
TOKYO, April 14 (Reuters) - Fujitsu Ltd (6702.T) said on Wednesday that it was ready to fight former president Kuniaki Nozoe in court in a dispute over his resignation that has rattled the reputation of Japan’s largest IT services firm.
“We did not violate the law or take any improper steps with respect to Mr Nozoe’s resignation,” Fujitsu Chairman Michiyoshi Mazuka told a news conference, the company’s first since Nozoe’s allegations were made public in early March.
Nozoe has threatened to sue Fujitsu executives over his claim that he was improperly forced to step down as president in September because of unfounded allegations of dealings with a firm with suspected links to organised crime. [ID:nTOE63600N]
Fujitsu, which had originally cited illness as the reason for Nozoe’s resignation, was forced to revise its disclosure in a flip-flop that triggered a two-day slide in its share price and a verbal warning from the Tokyo Stock Exchange.
The company has been under pressure to give a more detailed account of what happened, including addressing Nozoe’s claim that he was pressured to resign in a closed-door chat with select executives, instead of in an official meeting of the board.
“Looking back, I think we should have dismissed him at a board meeting instead of using illness,” Mazuka said.
Nozoe had earned a reputation as a reformer and dealmaker during his brief 15-month stint at the helm of the sprawling electronics conglomerate. He had been seeking a buyer for Nifty Corp 3828.T, an Internet service subsidiary, when he resigned.
According to Fujitsu, an investment fund Nozoe had turned to for help with the transaction had an “unfavourable reputation”, a term the company has not elaborated on but that is widely seen as code for ties with organised crime.
Fujitsu said it got the information on the fund’s reputation from financial institutions and investigation firms.
Senior Executive Advisor Naoyuki Akikusa warned Nozoe of the problem, but Nozoe continued to have relations with the Japanese representative of the fund, and as a result was asked to resign at a meeting on Sept. 25, the company said in a statement.
Kei Hata, Nozoe’s lawyer, said he was not yet ready to comment on Fujitsu’s latest statement on the matter.
“Mr Nozoe was calling it a suspicious fund himself, yet he still kept his relationship. He lacked the sense of risks he should have as a president,” said Mazuka, who Fujitsu says was at that meeting, along with Akikusa and four others.
Nozoe has threatened a shareholder lawsuit against Mazuka and Akikusa if Fujitsu does meet his request to sue them for what he argues was an opportunity loss for the company since his stepping down hampered the Nifty sale.
Fujitsu says that it had not made a decision to sell Nifty.
It also rejected Nozoe’s demand for an independent investigation into the dispute, arguing Nozoe’s withdrawal of a court petition last week that was aimed at reinstatement to the board pointed to a lack of supporting evidence for his claims.
“We are confused by the withdrawal of Mr Nozoe’s petition,” Mazuka said. “For this reason, we do not plan to set up a third-party investigation panel. We are ready to fight in court.”
Additional reporting by Kentaro Hamada; Editing by Nathan Layne