U.S. reported to quiz Jobs over options

January 24, 2007|By Bloomberg News

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Apple Inc. Chief Executive Officer Steven P. Jobs was questioned by government investigators leading the U.S. probe into backdated stock options grants at the company, lawyers familiar with the matter said yesterday.

Jobs met with officials from the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department last week in San Francisco, said the lawyers, who asked not to be identified because the interviews are confidential.

The interview with Jobs was first reported last Friday by The Recorder, a legal newspaper in San Francisco.

An internal Apple review of options awards found "no misconduct" by Jobs or current management, the company said last month.

Jobs' meeting with investigators took place about the time Apple announced record sales of its best-selling iPod music player. The meeting shows that the U.S. government is still seeking information about the CEO's role in the backdating, said Nell Minow, editor at the Corporate Library, a company governance research firm in Portland, Maine.

"It is, after all, the SEC's view on his culpability that matters, not the internal investigation at Apple," Minow said.

The lawyers who disclosed the meeting wouldn't give specifics about what Jobs was asked, what he told investigators or whether there would be additional sessions.

Mark F. Pomerantz, an attorney for Jobs, declined to comment. Luke Macaulay, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Kevin V. Ryan of San Francisco, whose office is investigating Apple, declined to comment, as did SEC spokesman John Nester in Washington.

Shares of Apple fell $1.09 to close at $85.70.

Almost 6,500 stock option grants to Apple employees were backdated between 1997 and 2002, including one grant to Jobs marked as approved at a special board meeting that never occurred, Apple said Dec. 29. Jobs chose dates for options granted to other employees but did not select dates for his own options, the company said.

Apple hasn't publicly disclosed which options were backdated by Jobs, what other executives received backdated options or why it faked a board meeting. The company said no member of current management was aware of the "irregularity" concerning the fictitious meeting.

Apple continues to "voluntarily and proactively" inform government investigators of its findings and continues to answer their questions, Chief Financial Officer Peter Oppenheimer told analysts in a conference call last Wednesday.

Jobs, 51, received options for 7.5 million shares in 2001. The terms of the grant were completed Dec. 18, 2001, when Apple's shares were trading at $21.01, Apple said. Oct. 19 was chosen as the grant's date, giving Jobs a lower exercise price of $18.30.

The company told shareholders in a March 2002 regulatory filing that the grant was approved at a special board meeting in October 2001. Apple said last month the meeting never took place.

Apple said it recorded $84 million in charges to correct its accounting for the backdated options, including $20 million for Jobs' grant of 7.5 million shares.

Jobs voluntarily canceled that grant and other outstanding options in March 2003. He chose to do so to make more stock available for employees, Apple said.

Instead, the board gave Jobs 5 million shares of restricted stock, which vested in March 2006. At the time, the shares were worth $646.6 million. They're now worth several times that figure.

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