Daimler Said to Face Questions in French EADS Probe

Daimler Said to Face Questioning in EADS Insider-Trading
A Mercedes star spins atop the headquarters of Daimler in Stuttgart. Photographer: Alex Kraus/Bloomberg

Daimler AG, which owns a 15 percent stake in European Aeronautic, Defence & Space Co., will be questioned as soon as tomorrow by Paris judges leading a nearly five-year-old probe into insider trading at EADS, according to a person familiar with the case.

Judges Serge Tournaire and Xavier Blanc are looking into Daimler’s decision to sell a 7.5 percent stake in EADS in April 2006, two months before EADS announced production delays on the A380, the world’s biggest passenger plane. The judges will meet with Daimler officials tomorrow, said the person, who declined to be identified because the discussions are private.

Lagardere SCA, like Daimler a founding stakeholder in EADS, sold a 7.5 percent stake at the same time as Daimler in 2006 and was charged Jan. 27 in the investigation. The criminal inquiry continued after the French financial regulator, the Autorite des Marches Financiers, cleared current and former EADS officials, Daimler and Lagardere in 2009 in the probe, saying there was no privileged information.

“Daimler will cooperate,” said Florian Martens, a spokesman for Stuttgart, Germany-based Daimler. “We’re confident that the matter will be resolved in the same way as the AMF investigation.”

Daimler shares rose 2.1 percent to 54.74 euros at 9:51 a.m. in Frankfurt trading.

The A380 announcement sent EADS shares down 26 percent on June 14, 2006. Seven current and former EADS executives have also been charged in the criminal probe.

‘Very Confident’

Lagardere Chief Executive Officer Arnaud Lagardere has said the allegations are baseless and that the Paris-based publisher won’t make any provisions for a possible criminal sanction.

“We will be cleared, we are very confident on this,” Lagardere said during a Jan. 31 conference call with journalists. The judges have “doubts, but no proof.”

Airbus Chief Operating Officer John Leahy, Noel Forgeard, a former co-CEO at EADS, and Gustav Humbert, the former Airbus CEO, are among the current and former executives who have been charged. Ten have been listed as “material witnesses,” according to the Paris public prosecutor. That classification allows them to be accompanied by lawyers during meetings with the judges. All deny any wrongdoing, and being charged doesn’t mean a decision has been made on sending them to trial.

EADS was formed in the merger of the French, German and Spanish partners in Airbus, and the French and German stakes are kept equal through a pact. Daimler owns 15 percent and controls the votes of the 7.5 percent stake it sold in 2006 to a group of German banks and states. The French side owns 22.5 percent -- 15 percent held by the state and another 7.5 percent owned by Lagardere, which manages the entire French stake.

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