EADS execs, shareholders cleared of inside trading

PARIS — The French market regulator today cleared 17 current and former EADS executives of insider trading in a multimillion-dollar scandal. Two companies with major EADS shareholdings, Lagardere and Daimler, also were cleared.

The decision follows a nearly 3-year probe into what the EADS executives and board members knew about technical problems with the Airbus' A380 superjumbo and mid-range A350 aircraft. They were accused of using this insider information when they sold shares or exercised stock options worth millions of euros in 2005 and early 2006.

When the A380 problems were made public in June 2006, EADS shares plunged 26 percent in one day and the company sank into months of management troubles.

Technical problems were discussed at meetings Feb. 17 and March 1, 2006 — before the major share sales.

However, the regulator ruled that knowledge of the aircraft technical problems could not be considered "privileged information" or "precise information that could have a notable influence on the share price of corresponding financial instruments."

The regulator said it was common for executives to discuss production delays and technical problems for a new aircraft program.

EADS welcomed the verdict and said it "is confident that this point of view will also prevail in all other pending proceedings based on the same facts."

Five of those questioned by investigators, including former EADS co-president Noel Forgeard, still face judicial proceedings that could lead to a trial in court. Forgeard has insisted on his innocence.

The regulatory probe had named 17 EADS and Airbus officials as suspects, but chief investigator Antoine Courtault narrowed the list down to seven people suspected of selling shares in March 8-21, 2006.

The suspects included Jean-Paul Gut, a former deputy chief executive who oversaw strategy; chief Airbus salesman John Leahy; Andreas Sperl, director of the EADS site in Dresde; Olivier Andries, a former EADS vice president; human resources director Erik Pillet, and Alain Flourens, in charge of training centers.

Each of the seven faced potential millions in fines if found guilty of insider trading.