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Former Comverse execs charged with stock option fraud

Amid massive U.S. probe, former finance chief and general counsel surrender; arrest warrant issued for co-founder.

Two former executives of Comverse Technology surrendered to FBI agents on Wednesday as authorities brought fraud charges against them, as well as the software group's co-founder, in a widening U.S. investigation of corporate stock option manipulation.

With more than 80 probes under way involving dozens of companies, former Comverse finance chief David Kreinberg and former senior general counsel William Sorin surrendered and were scheduled to be arraigned in federal court in New York, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement.

David Kreinberg David Kreinberg

An arrest warrant has been issued for Comverse co-founder and former Chief Executive Kobi Alexander, it said.

The Justice Department said it also has seized more than $45 million from two investment accounts in Alexander's name.

The seizure was based on Alexander's alleged role in "a stock options fraud and a money-laundering scheme involving the secret transfer of more than $57 million to accounts in Israel in an effort to conceal the funds from U.S. authorities."

In the second case to result from a government probe of stock option manipulation, prosecutors said they had brought criminal fraud charges against all three former Comverse officers.

William Sorin William Sorin

The Securities and Exchange Commission has already filed civil fraud charges against the three, alleging manipulation of stock option grant dates, court documents showed.

Authorities were expected to discuss the charges at a press conference set for Wednesday afternoon in Washington, D.C.

The three men and their lawyers could not be reached for comment. A spokesman for the SEC declined to comment.

All three former Comverse officers quit in May, after the company said it was investigating past stock option grants.

Comverse shares were 1.4 percent higher, at $19.80, on the Nasdaq market in afternoon trading.

A stock option holder has the right to buy shares in the future at a fixed strike price, normally set as the market price of the shares on the date the option is granted.

Authorities are looking at backdating, in which options are awarded on one date, but the grant date is set at an earlier date to precede a rally in the shares, locking in profits for the option recipient.

Also under scrutiny is spring-loading, in which grant dates are set in advance of a positive announcement, and bullet dodging, in which the dates are set to follow a negative announcement. In both cases, the dates are set to anticipate a share price rally and lock in option recipient profits.

The practices are not illegal, but they can run afoul of the law if not properly disclosed, taxed and accounted for.

Last month, prosecutors in California charged two former executives of high-tech group Brocade Communications Systems with scheming to backdate stock options. The SEC also brought civil charges against the two, along with a third former Brocade officer.