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Allegations that employees at Apple falsified documents to disguise backdating of stock options have made the computer company one of the top priorities for US investigators as they grapple with a huge case load stemming from the stock options scandal.

The Securities and Exchange Commission has empowered its enforcement division to seek subpoenas from companies alleged to have manipulated the grant dates for executive stock options, but the Apple portion of the probe remains in a relatively early stage.

Apple’s shares fell 2 per cent in early trading on Friday after the Wall Steet Journal reported that federal authorities were actively investigating a grant of an option made to Steve Jobs, Apple’s co-founder and chief executive.

The fall reflected concerns that Mr Jobs, who did not excercise the option and who has been cleared of wrongdoing by Apple, could yet share the fate of dozens of other top Silicon Valley executives who have been forced to resign over the scandal. The shares later recovered to trade 1.4 per cent lower at $94.48.

Allegations that employees at Apple falsified records that purported to show a board meeting had taken place to approve an options grant to Mr Jobs in 2001 have bumped the prominent computer and music firm up investigators’ priority list, according to one person familiar with the matter. The allegations were first reported in the Financial Times last month.

More than 160 companies are under scrutiny for irregular options grants, giving federal investigators an overwhelming number of potential cases to chose from. So far, investigators have placed higher priority on companies where the practice was especially pervasive or where documents were falsified. When Apple first disclosed that it had discovered improperly dated options, it fell into the lower priority group.

Federal prosecutors and the SEC’s San Francisco office have asked to interview some former employees and Apple has turned over the results of its own internal investigation, but people familiar with the investigation said they have not issued subpoenas–a more confrontational step–to Apple or its current and former officers or employees.

Securities investigations typically take months and years rather than weeks and investigators often do not resort to subpoenas while a company or potential witness is being cooperative.

Apple said in October that its investigation had raised “serious concerns” about the conduct of two former officers, believed to be Fred Anderson, Apple’s former chief financial officer and a former board member, and Nancy Heinen, Apple’s former general counsel.

Mr Anderson was not available for comment on Friday. Ms Heinen’s attorney said that “each of the options grants involving Ms Heinen was authorised and approved by her superiors, and none of the grants had a material impact on Apple’s financial results or operations.”

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