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Former EADS Chief Faces Insider Trading Charges

Noel Forgeard hit with preliminary charges in an extensive probe into stock sales by more than a dozen former and current executives at the European planemaker.

PARIS (AP) -- A former co-CEO of Airbus parent company EADS, Noel Forgeard, was hit with preliminary insider trading charges Friday in an extensive probe into stock sales by more than a dozen former and current executives at the European planemaker.

The investigating judges filed the charges overnight and ordered Forgeard freed, who had been in the custody of financial police for two days, pending further investigation, his lawyer Jean-Alain Michel said.

Forgeard is at the center of one of France's largest alleged insider trading probes, involving one of Europe's biggest industrial players European Aeronautic Defence & Space NV.

Investigators are looking into the sale of millions of euros (dollars) worth of EADS shares by top executives and shareholders before a June 2006 announcement of delays for the A380 superjumbo that made EADS shares crash 26 percent in one day.

France has two related probes, one by judges for the Paris prosecutor, the other by the AMF, the Financial Markets Authority. The judges' probe into alleged insider trading at EADS was opened in late 2006.

The AMF's investigation focusses on share sales by 17 executives and shareholders DaimlerChrysler AG and Lagardere SCA.

Respected French Web site Mediapart said the executives included Airbus CEO Tom Enders and his deputy Fabrice Bregier, chief salesman John Leahy, and Ralph Crosby, head of EADS' North America division.

EADS spokesman Pierre Bayle declined to comment on the charges against Forgeard, nor on the investigations against executives still working for EADS.

EADS CEO Louis Gallois said in a letter to employees last month that his ''confidence in EADS managers is total.''

Forgeard's bail was set at euro1 million ($1.56 million) and he is forbidden from meeting his ex director of cabinet, according to a judicial source who declined to be cited by name because he is not authorized to speak with the media.

Forgeard, who has denied wrongdoing, told judges Xaviere Simeoni and Cecile Pendaries during questioning ''that he had not committed insider trading'' and that to his knowledge neither had any other EADS executives, his lawyer said.

Preliminary charges under French law mean the investigating judges have strong reason to suspect involvement in a crime and give them more time to investigate. Judges decide later whether or not there is enough evidence for a trial.

These charges do not mean ''an element of guilt,'' Michel said.

If a trial is held and he is convicted, Forgeard could face prison time and hefty fines.

Authorities detained Forgeard on Wednesday morning. It was a new embarrassment for EADS as it emerges from a rocky couple of years plagued by trouble with the A380 and management turmoil.

The company is in the midst of a massive restructuring program and struggling to cope with the ever more expensive euro, which eats into profits. Unlike Boeing Co., many of Airbus' costs are in euros while it sells its planes in dollars.

Forgeard was named co-CEO of EADS with Thomas Enders, now head of Airbus, in 2005. Between November 2005 and March 2006, Forgeard, his family members and other EADS executives exercised millions of euros (dollars) in stock options.

The delays to the A380 were announced in June 2006, and Forgeard resigned weeks later.

In a newspaper interview last month, Forgeard was quoted as saying he is ''innocent,'' but acknowledges that ''in hindsight, it would have been better if I hadn't'' sold the shares when he did.

EADS shares, which have yet to recover their value of early 2006, were trading up 4 percent at euro15.01 in midday Paris trading Friday.

Associated Press writers Pierre-Antoine Souchard and Emma Vandore contributed to this report.

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