A long-awaited French corporate trial involving allegations of insider trading in the shares of Airbus Group gets under way. As David Pollard reports, it marks the climax of an eight-year investigation involving seven current and former managers at Europe's largest aerospace group.
France has waited a long time for this trial. And with seven current or former Airbus execs facing insider dealing charges along with two of Europe's biggest corporate names - Lagardere and Daimler - it promises to be a show-stopper. But now that it's here, they claim there shouldn't be a trial at all. They say that's because the matter's already been dealt with - by France's stock market regulator, the AMF. Former co-CEO Noel Forgeard was being escorted by his lawyer when asked if the regulator had cleared him. SOUNDBITE (French) FORMER EADS CO-CEO, NOEL FORGEARD, SAYING: "Totally." (SOUNDBITE) (French) LAWYER FOR FORMER EADS CO-CEO NOEL FORGEARD, OLIVIER GUTKES, SAYING: "Totally cleared by the AMF. And declared totally and definitively innocent." At the heart of the allegations is that they sold shares in 2006 when they knew of serious problems at what was then EADS. They included long delays in the production of the A380 jetliner and the likelihood of a costly redesign of the A350. The AMF did clear the defendants of broadly similar charges back in 2009. And that raises a claim that a second legal action against them would amount to ''double jeopardy''. Current Airbus sales chief John Leahy is another of the defendants. His lawyer says there's a legal impasse. SOUNDBITE (French) LAWYER FOR AIRBUS SALES CHIEF JOHN LEAHY, JEAN-YVES LE BORGNE, SAYING: "The judgement from the AMF put everyone beyond suspicion. The question we must ask is: what is the authority of an AMF judgement which clears those called to court today, when they're appearing in court for the same charges. Few expect the trial to be dropped. Over five billion euros was wiped off the value of the company when its problems were revealed and a profits warning issued. And the hearing could offer a rare glimpse of the inner workings of Airbus at a time of Franco-German in-fighting and strategy disputes. This week the A350 finally won approval from European safety inspectors. The trial could serve as an unwelcome reminder of a time Airbus would rather forget.