US halts Apple stock options inquiry

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The US Department of Justice has halted its criminal investigation into stock options backdating at Apple without bringing charges against the company or any of its current or former executives, according to two lawyers involved in the case.

The computer maker was among the most prominent of more than 200 companies to be investigated over the practice, in which the grant dates of stock options are changed using hindsight to inflate their value. Fred Anderson, Apple’s former chief financial officer, and Nancy Heinen, former general counsel, were among those under investigation for alleged improper manipulation of stock options grants.

“The justice department was very careful and comprehensive in reviewing the facts, and they concluded that no charges should be brought against anyone, including the company,” said Miles Ehrlich, a lawyer for Ms Heinen.

Apple declined to comment, and the DoJ did not return calls.

The SEC last year filed civil charges against Mr Anderson and Ms Heinen over alleged backdating. Mr Anderson paid $3.5m to settle the charges. He neither admitted nor denied wrongdoing. Ms Heinen is fighting the case. Her trial is set to begin next year.

After the criminal probe was first reported in the Wall Street Journal in 2006, Steve Jobs, Apple’s chief executive, apologised after an internal investigation revealed that there had been several instances of improper options grants at the company.

Mr Jobs was cleared of any wrongdoing.

Although backdating is not in itself illegal, it creates accounting problems and can fall foul of securities laws if it is not properly disclosed.

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