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Japan's scandal-ridden Olympus Corp. is considering an equity alliance with five prospective investors, including electronics groups Sony Corp. , Panasonic Corp. and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., the Asahi Shimbun newspaper said on Thursday.

Olympus, a maker of cameras and medical equipment, has been wounded by a $1.7-billion accounting fraud that burst into the open in October, shredding its share price and leaving its management in disgrace and its balance sheet in need of capital.

The newspaper listed the three electronics giants as among those prepared to inject fresh capital into Olympus in return for a stake in the company and a seat at the table of the global healthcare industry.

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Olympus dominates the global market for gastro-intestinal endoscopes, regarded as the kind of high-tech, profitable and stable business that major electronics firms would covet.

The newspaper listed the other two candidates as Japan's Terumo Corp., a medical equipment firm, and Fujifilm Holdings, which also makes endoscopes and has long been rumoured to be interested in Olympus.

Olympus planned to decide on a tie-up as soon as February, the Asahi said, citing sources familiar with the matter.

The report follows persistent speculation that electronics firms are interested in Olympus's endoscope business.

But both Samsung and Panasonic had only this week issued denials, though these failed to extinguish talk in Japan that an electronics firm might yet take a stake in Olympus, once the company has finally put the accounting scandal behind it.

Sony chairman and president Howard Stringer, speaking at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, declined to comment on speculation that his firm was also interested in Olympus, saying it was inappropriate to comment at present.

Panasonic president Fumio Ohtsubo, speaking at the same event, said: "The situation is unclear so we aren't doing anything at this time."

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And Han Myung-sup, head of Samsung's digital camera operation, said in Las Vegas the South Korean firm was not interested in acquiring Olympus. "There'll be not much to gain from doing M&As, as we already have strong brand value."

Olympus's camera business runs at a loss.

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