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Apple chief executive questioned by U.S. authorities

Apple chief executive Steve Jobs was questioned by federal investigators last week regarding the company's stock options backdating, according several published reports.

Citing people familiar with the matter, both the San Francisco Chronicle and Bloomberg said Tuesday that Jobs was questioned by staffers from the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Jobs arrived at the San Francisco federal building last week for the interview "flanked by lawyers," the Chronicle reported. However, those privy to the talks declined to reveal the specifics of what Jobs was asked or said.

Of particular importance to authorities is a grant for 7.5 million options issued to Jobs back in 2001 that was backdated by two months. In December Apple conceded that documents purporting to show a full board meeting had taken place to approve the remuneration, as prescribed by company guidelines, were later falsified.

In its report Tuesday, the Chronicle cited a person familiar with matter as saying Apple attorney Wendy Howell, whom the company dismissed in December, created the false documents at the instruction of Apple management.

Also at issue for authorities are over 6,400 additional company stock option grants which were similarly misdated. Apple said last month it would take an $84 million charge for bulk of the fortuitously granted options, but maintained that its own internal investigation into the matter turned up no wrongdoing by Jobs or any other member of its current management team.

Apple did say, however, that its investigation raised serious concerns regarding the actions of two former officers in connection with the accounting, recording and reporting of stock option grants. According to the Chronicle, Apple zeroed the probe on its own legal department. Nancy Heinen, the company's former general counsel, left Apple in May.

In a bizarre twist to the ongoing federal probe, the Chronicle also reported that Chris Steskal, the lead federal prosecutor in the government's probe into Apple, will leave the U.S. attorney's office in San Francisco next month to head up the white-collar practice with Fenwick & West. Apple is a client of Fenwick, and Heinen's husband, Dennis DeBroeck, is a partner there, the paper said.

The meeting between Jobs and federal investigators was first reported by The Recorder, a San Francisco legal newspaper.