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SAN FRANCISCO, Nov 9 (Reuters) – If the private eyes hired by Oracle Corp (NASDAQ:ORCL) to track down Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) CEO Leo Apotheker could read Japanese, they might have already closed the case.

Apotheker’s whereabouts have been the subject of much debate in a high-profile legal battle between Oracle and SAP (DE:SAPG), the company he once headed. Oracle is trying to serve him a subpoena, believing his testimony would bolster its argument that SAP owes billions of dollars for software theft.

But, unnoticed outside Japan, Apotheker gave an interview to the Nikkei business daily on Nov. 5, published in Japanese a day later, that said he was in Tokyo.

HP has refused to accept the subpoena, saying Oracle is trying to harass Apotheker, who began his new job last week. On Tuesday, HP again declined to comment on his location, with a spokeswoman saying: "We don’t discuss the schedules or specific whereabouts of our executives."

Oracle and Europe’s top software maker are engaged in a legal battle that has transfixed Silicon Valley. The U.S. software maker has hired private investigators to track down Apotheker, believing his testimony will help its efforts to claim roughly $4 billion in damages for software theft in its case against SAP, which is currently under way at a federal court in Oakland, California.

Experts say HP may be wary of exposing their new chief, whose appointment surprised Wall Street and Silicon Valley, to a courtroom attack that may undermine his credibility.

Apotheker himself had said he planned to spend his first weeks on the job traveling the world to talk to HP employees. If he is overseas, he is beyond reach of a subpoena, a source familiar with the matter has told Reuters.

In the Nikkei interview, Apotheker discussed issues including mergers and acquisitions, saying that while software only accounts for a small portion of HP’s business: "We won’t rule out ‘buying innovation,’ through M&A of businesses, including those in Japan." (Reporting by Gabriel Madway and Ritsuko Ando; additional reporting by Sachi Izumi; Editing by Edwin Chan and Gary Hill)