Disney clears Jobs in options probe

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Walt Disney on Friday cleared Steve Jobs, the co-founder and chief executive of Apple, of wrongdoing in connection with backdated options grants at Pixar, the animation studio he sold to the entertainment group for $7.4bn last year.

The announcement resolves a question that had been hanging over the head of Mr Jobs since November, when Disney first disclosed that it had received inquiries from federal investigators looking into the timing of options grants at the company.

It comes as Mr Jobs remains under scrutiny from federal authorities, whose investigations into backdating at Pixar and Apple are ongoing.

Disney said on Friday that although options had been backdated at Pixar prior to its
acquisition by the company, its board had found that “no one currently associated with the company engaged in any intentional or deliberate acts of misconduct”.

A Disney spokeswoman said that included Mr Jobs, who became Disney’s biggest shareholder and took a seat on the company’s board following the Pixar deal.

The entertainment group said it was continuing to co-operate with the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission, which are investigating the matter. Apple last year cleared Mr Jobs of any wrongdoing stemming from backdated options grants at the company, even though it admitted that he was aware of or recommended favourable dates for some of the grants.

An Apple spokesman said on Friday that the company’s board had cleared Mr Jobs only after an “exhaustive investigation”.

Apple’s investors have been on edge as they await the outcome of the SEC and justice department probes into the scandal. Last month, Apple shares fell after the Wall Street Journal reported that Mr Jobs had approved an employment contract for John Lasseter, a senior Pixar creative director, that included an unusually well-timed options grant.

That slide underscored investors’ sensitivity to the position of Mr Jobs, who is viewed as the creative genius behind products such as the iPod music player, which have helped turn Apple into a leading electronics company and a top consumer brand after a period of near-irrelevance in the 1990s.

Disney’s statement also appears to clear Mr Lasseter, the creative talent behind Pixar hits such as Toy Story and The Incredibles. Mr Lasseter has been recruited to lead a turnround of Disney’s animation department.

Shares in Apple slipped 0.1 per cent in after-hours trading.

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