Why Are Olympus Execs Pleading The Fifth?

Posted in Quality Assurance by amanda.pedersen on December 20, 2016

Three of Olympus Corp.’s top executives stayed mum when grilled about emails tied to deadly scope-related infections.

Amanda Pedersen


Contaminated Olympus TJF-Q180V closed-channel duodenoscope.

 

It’s not uncommon for corporate executives to plead the Fifth in civil lawsuits when separate criminal charges are possible, nor does it indicate guilt, according to legal experts, but it certainly raises eyebrows.

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Three top executives at Olympus Corp. invoked their constitutional right against self-incrimination when asked about internal company emails tied to the company’s role in scope-related superbug outbreaks.

Lawyers representing Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle and a patient’s widow in a civil case against Olympus said the Tokyo executives declined to answer questions about the emails during two days of depositions Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, Kaiser Health News reported.

Legal experts quoted in the report explained that pleading the Fifth is a common legal move in cases like this, as executives may be concerned about prosecutors using their words against them, but they also said it suggests that the company is concerned about what the prosecution could do with such testimony.  

The hospital’s lawyers said the emails are key evidence in the case and show that Susumu Nishina, one of the three executives deposed, told the company’s U.S. managers in February 2013 not to warn American hospitals about contamination problems related to Olympus duodenoscopes that had been reported in Dutch, French, and U.S. hospitals. Nishina is the Tokyo-based company’s chief manager for market quality administration.

Two other executives, Hisao Yabe and Hiroki Moriyama, were also questioned during the recent depositions. Moriyama is a key figure in the company’s regulatory affairs and quality assurance unit, according to the Kaiser Health News report, and he is listed as an inventor on several of the company’s U.S. patents. The report noted that he was also a key contact on injury reports the company filed with U.S. regulators about scope-related infections.

Olympus has also been in hot water this year with the U.S. federal and state officials for alleged kickback payments to doctors and hospitals linked to the company’s marketing and sales of endoscopy equipment. U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade called Olympus out for the kickback scheme that resulted in a $646 million state and federal settlement when she testified before a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee hearing in September. That settlement, McQuade said, was the largest amount any medical device company has ever paid to the federal government for alleged kickback violations.

Amanda Pedersen is Qmed's news editor. Reach her at amanda.pedersen@ubm.com

[Image credit: Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee report published in Jan. 13, 2016]