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Latest Questions in Apple Probe Hurt Shares

Shares of Apple Computer fell after new details of a federal investigation into the company's stock options practices raised questions about the role of its charismatic CEO, Steve Jobs.

Citing unnamed people familiar with the matter, the Financial Times reported that Jobs received 7.5 million stock options in 2001 without the required board authorization and that documents were later falsified to indicate otherwise.

In October, Apple said its own internal probe had found no misconduct by any current officers and largely exonerated Jobs of any wrongdoing.

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Late Tuesday, The Recorder, a San Francisco-based legal publication reported federal prosecutors were looking into forged documents at Apple related to administering stock options. It cited people with knowledge of the case who requested anonymity because the case is the subject of criminal and civil government investigations.

The paper also said Jobs has hired his own attorneys outside of the company's legal team to represent him.

Apple One of Many

Apple spokesman Steve Dowling said the company is providing the Securities and Exchange Commission with the results of its internal investigation into its stock options granting practices, but had no further comment.

Apple is one of nearly 200 companies that have disclosed SEC, DOJ or internal investigations of potential backdating of stock options. Backdating refers to retroactively pegging the strike price of an option to a day when the stock traded cheaply. Options with low strike prices are more valuable to their owner because they are less expensive to exercise.

In addition to the forged documents, the October 2001 grant to Jobs appears to have been backdated. However, Jobs later surrendered the options without exercising them and realized no financial benefit.

Financial analysts, along with Wall Street, have largely shrugged off the reports, seeing little impact as long as Jobs, Apple's iconic co-founder and CEO, remained unscathed.

In a Wednesday note, UBS Investment Research Analyst Ben Reitzes called investors' fears "overblown."

Apple said in October its internal investigation found no misconduct by any current officers but raised concerns about how two former officers recorded and accounted for stock options. Citing people with knowledge of the investigation, The Recorder also reported those two former officers were General Counsel Nancy Heinen and Chief Financial Officer Fred Anderson.

Anderson retired as Apple's CFO in 2004 yet remained a board member until he resigned in October after the internal inquiry. Heinen left Apple for unknown reasons in the spring, before Apple initiated its stock options probe in June.

Apple said the probe found accounting "irregularities" that occurred between 1997 and 2002. The troublesome awards included millions of options given to Jobs, though he subsequently surrendered the awards in 2003.

"Two Fall People"

Echoing other analysts who have said they do not believe Jobs' position will be affected by the scandal, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster said Wednesday he remains convinced that Jobs was not involved in any wrongdoing.

"Apple has issues with stock options but I don't think it matters unless Steve Jobs is impacted," Munster said. "I think Wall Street could care less about this. They've already got two fall people -- Nancy and Fred -- and what it comes down to for investors is how many iPods they sold in the December quarter."

On Dec. 15, Apple said it was delaying filing its annual report with the SEC due to its ongoing investigation into stock option grants. In another filing, it said it needs to restate historical financial statements to record charges for compensation related to past grants. As a result, Apple was unable to file its 10-K Form for the fiscal year ended Sept. 30 by the required filing date of Dec. 14.

Apple expects to file its annual report and its quarterly report for the period ending July 1 by Friday.

Shares of Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple have traded in a range of $50.16 and $93.16 in the past year.

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