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The backdating problem was first highlighted by Professor Erik Lie of the University of Iowa, who published his initial study in 2004.Professor Lie concluded that the robust profitability of so many options was statistically impossible absent some artificial influence such as backdating.Fortunately, the government appears to appreciate the difference between backdated options that involve the “intentional alteration of documents or faulty internal control and dating issues arising from ministerial or logistical delays.” Unfortunately, the plaintiffs’ bar is not so discerning.
Another troublesome outcome for a corporation is that the SEC will bring civil fraud charges stemming from options backdating in all cases where criminal charges have been filed.
Likewise, in a case involving Comverse Technology Inc., the U. Attorney charged the former CEO, the former CFO, and the former General Counsel with violating securities laws.
In that case, corporate officers inserted backdated option grant dates into board of directors’ unanimous written consents that were transmitted to the compensation committee.
The Internal Revenue Service has also joined a number of investigations due to the tax implications of options backdating, both with respect to the individuals who received the backdated options as well as the corporations that failed to account properly for the options when they were granted.
Of course, disparity between a reported grant date and the actual grant date is not always intentional.