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Apple options review claims Anderson's scalp

Current management get clean bill of health

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The fall-out over the All-American Stock Options Scam continues, with Apple's former chief financial officer, Fred Anderson, resigning today from the board.

He told the company that he thought it was in Apple's best interests that he should go, in the wake of the publication of the findings of the firm's investigation into stock option awards. The company today raised "serious concerns" over the actions of two former unnamed officers of the company in accounting for options awards between 1997 and 2002. But it has given an all-clear to the current management team. We will know more when Apple grasses up the duo to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Apple has uncovered stock option grants on 15 dates between 1997 and 2002 that appeared to have been backdated. In a "few instances, Apple CEO Steve Jobs was aware that favorable grant dates had been selected, but he did not receive or otherwise benefit from these grants and was unaware of the accounting implications".

Apple will probably have to restate historical financial statements to properly book in the non-cash accounting of the rogue awards, but it is still working out what should go where.

Now for a mea culpa from Jobs:

I apologize to Apple's shareholders and employees for these problems, which happened on my watch. They are completely out of character for Apple. We will now work to resolve the remaining issues as quickly as possible and to put the proper remedial measures in place to ensure that this never happens again.

Apple's committee of outside directors took three months to pore through the records. They used independent counsel and accountants, which is possibly why it took them so long to report back. The committee looked at 650,000 emails and documents and grilled more than 40 current and former staff, directors and advisors, the company revealed.

The backdating of stock options to give them a more favourable starting point - and hence make more money for fat cat recipients - and possibly lower tax payments to the IRS, was a wizard wheeze of a corporate sleaze for several companies over several years in the late 90s and early noughties. Following tighter reporting rules that came into effect in August 2002, the stunt got harder to carry off, but carry on it did.

The practice came to an abrupt halt with the publication of an academic study by Erik Lie of the University of Iowa, which showed how the granting of options to execs at several companies "preceded big run-ups in the stock price", CNNMoney.com reports.

In a note on his university's website, Lie estimates that "23 per cent of unscheduled, at-the-money grants to top executives dated between 1996 and August 2002 were backdated or otherwise manipulated".

The SEC is currently investigating more than 50 companies over this practice, and many, many more have rushed to head off the SEC at the pass by conducting their own voluntary reviews. According to CNNMoney more than 100 companies probably backdated stock options. ®

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