(Adds analyst comment, stock price, background; in U.S. dollars unless noted)
TORONTO, Jan 22 (Reuters) - Canadian regulators are seeking a record penalty as high as C$100 million ($80 million) from the top two executives of Research In Motion Ltd RIM.TO for their role in a stock option accounting controversy dating back to 1996, the Globe and Mail newspaper reported.
Ontario Securities Commission staff are in advanced discussions with lawyers representing RIM’s co-chief executive officers, Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis, the paper said on Thursday, citing people familiar with the developments.
Reached at his home, Balsillie declined to comment on what he described as rumors, the paper reported. Neither Lazaridis nor his lawyer could be reached. A spokeswoman for the OSC said: “We can’t comment on enforcement cases.”
The OSC’s investigation began in 2006. The regulator began negotiating a potential settlement last fall, the paper said, citing sources.
In March 2007, RIM announced an internal review had found no intentional misconduct by executives directors or other employees responsible for administering options grants.
However, Balsillie stepped down as chairman at the time as the company revealed a $250 million earnings restatement relating to mistakes in how it granted the options.
Given that RIM’s disclosure of the OSC options probe goes back to 2006, investors have had plenty of time to digest the news and so are not taken aback by reports of a potential settlement, said independent technology analyst Carmi Levy.
Regulators are “just attaching a number to something that people have known about and understood for quite some time,” Levy said, adding that if C$100 million is the amount ultimately paid to regulators, “it’s certainly worse than (RIM) would have hoped for, but it’s no big surprise.”
The market did not appear shocked by the news nor size of the possible settlement, as RIM’s highly volatile shares gave up C$1.07, or 1.6 percent, to C$65.68 on the Toronto Stock Exchange. The shares sometimes swing up to 10 percent up or down in a single session even with no news from the company.
The OSC has pushed for Balsillie to pay the bulk of any penalty and relinquish his seat on RIM’s board of directors for a period of time, the Toronto-based Globe said.
Although one person familiar with the talks said the parties were nearing an agreement, nothing has been finalized, the report added.
Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM declined to comment on the report. The Ontario Securities Commission was not immediately available.
$1=$1.26 Canadian Reporting by Wojtek Dabrowski in Toronto and Bijoy Koyitty in Bangalore; editing by Rob Wilson