French court halts Airbus insider trading trial

Criminal trial opened last year but was suspended after a day

A French court on Monday quashed an insider trading case against current and former executives and two previous shareholders in Airbus Group, ending one of the most turbulent phases in the European aerospace company's history.

Seven current and former managers and two former corporate shareholders, Lagardere and Daimler, who had been accused of profiting from problems in building the A380 superjumbo airliner, will no longer stand trial because they had previously been cleared by France's AMF market regulator.

Judges at the Paris Criminal Court agreed to drop the trial after the defendants won the support of France's Constitutional Court, which ruled that the trial would breach safeguards against double prosecutions.

The seven individuals and two former shareholders had been accused of selling shares in early 2006 in the knowledge that the A380 was running into delays.

When the delays were announced in June that year, shares in what was then known as EADS lost more than a quarter of their value, triggering a complaint by a private investor that ballooned into one of France's most high-profile court cases.

It also led to an investigation by the AMF stock market regulator, which cleared them of insider trading in 2009.

The criminal trial opened last year but was suspended after a day of fierce legal arguments that tested the balance of power between the French administration and judiciary.

While the decision involving the seven individuals was expected, there had been some uncertainty over whether Lagardere and Daimler would be spared a trial since in their case, the original AMF investigation had been narrower.

The ruling draws a line under technical problems and delays that marred the entry to service of the A380 in 2007.

Now, however, Airbus faces a new set of problems over the jet due to a downturn in sales, and is weighing up plans to relaunch the A380 with new engines to regain lost momentum.