Jobs cleared of wrongdoing

The Walt Disney Co. has closed a chapter on an internal investigation into backdated options at Pixar and appeared to clear Steve Jobs of any wrongdoing.

In a short statement on Friday, Mouse House chairman John Pepper said no employee or exec currently associated with the company was involved “in any intentional or deliberate acts of misconduct” at Pixar.

Pepper did not mention Jobs specifically but appeared to be clearing its largest shareholder by offering a blanket exoneration to anyone associated with the company.

Observers had been watching the case closely to see what statements, if any, Disney would make about the Pixar founder.

Jobs was the Pixar chief at the time that several execs received suspiciously timed options, though there has been no evidence he had any knowledge of the backdating.

Book isn’t closed on the controversy, however; the SEC and Justice Dept. are still said to be weighing the matter.

Backdated options are stock options retroactively dated so that their strike price is lower than their price at the time the options are given, increasing their value by the amount of the discrepancy.

They are not always illegal but can be when not disclosed to shareholders.

Last summer, it was revealed that Pixar execs John Lasseter and Ed Catmull were among those who had received suspiciously timed options between 1998 and 2003, a number of years before the company was bought by Disney.

Catmull received 1 million options and Lasseter 2 million on Dec. 6, 2000, at a price of $13.25, according to SEC filings, even though employment contracts were not signed until several months later. That the options were issued at a price representing the low for the period suggests the possibility of backdating.

Disney acknowledged in November that it was cooperating with the SEC on an options probe.

Mouse House statement leaves open the possibility that execs no longer with the company were connected to backdated op-tions. Company acknowledged that there would be small tax liabilities associated with the backdating.

Apple had previously cleared Jobs after examining its own option grants.

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