Key board members of defense group EADS, which has been hit by delays to the Airbus A380 superjumbo and questions about stock sales beforehand, could consider the future of French co-Chief Executive Noel Forgeard at a meeting Monday, a French minister said.
Industry Minister Francois Loos made the comments in an interview on LCI Television, responding to a question about confidence in Forgeard and whether he would stay on.
"There is an EADS board meeting today. It's up to them to address that question," Loos said.
European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. said no board meeting was scheduled for Monday. But it confirmed through a spokesman that "certain board members" including Forgeard and German co-CEO Thomas Enders were attending an informal meeting in Munich.
The company, in which the French government holds a 15 percent stake, saw more than $6.3 billion wiped off its market value last week after announcing a new seven-month delay to the Airbus A380 program. EADS owns 80 percent of Airbus and is buying the remaining 20 percent from Britain's BAE Systems PLC.
It emerged soon afterward that Forgeard made $3.1 million in profit exercising stock options in March, weeks before EADS management was notified of the further delay. Forgeard's children and several other EADS executives also offloaded shares.
EADS shareholders have said that no decision will be taken on the company or its management until an internal inquiry is completed. But pressure on Forgeard appeared to be mounting.
Enders said Sunday that he had refrained from selling EADS stock.
"Of course it would have been lucrative to exercise the options in March, given EADS' high share price," he told Dow Jones Newswires. "But I decided it wouldn't be opportune to do so."
Industry Minister Loos declined to say directly whether he thought Forgeard should stay on at EADS, or to comment on reports that Louis Gallois, chairman of the state-owned rail operator SNCF, is being considered to replace him.
But he said: "What's important to me is that this flower of the French and European economy preserves its image on the international scene, allowing it to increase its sales and be present on all markets."
Forgeard, who was chief executive of Airbus until last year, has vigorously denied accusations he profited from insider knowledge. In an interview published Monday by financial daily La Tribune, he said he was "shocked" by the allegations, which are under investigation by France's Financial Markets Authority.
Forgeard also maintains he had no knowledge that the core shareholders of EADS - French defense and media group Lagardere SCA and Germany's DaimlerChrysler AG - planned to sell a combined 15 percent of the company. The move depressed the price of EADS shares after it was announced April 4.
Under EADS governance statutes, the company's French co-CEO can be sacked only by the French shareholders - the government and Lagardere. Arnaud Lagardere and Manfred Bischoff, the company's French and German chairmen, held crisis talks with the two co-CEOs on Sunday, financial daily Les Echos reported.
Shares in EADS plunged more than 25 percent on Wednesday after the A380 delay and a profit warning. They were up 1 percent Monday to $25.43.
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