Embattled EADS co-chief executive Noel Forgeard yesterday ruled out resigning at a French parliamentary committee hearing on Airbus delays, amid mounting evidence its German shareholders want him to go.
Facing what participants described as a detailed grilling on his decision to sell shares in March, weeks before EADS said it knew of delays in Airbus's flagship A380 super-jumbo programme, Mr Forgeard came armed with a chronology of internal meetings but failed to dispel criticism of his conduct.
"On the question of stock options, everyone remained with their doubts," said Pierre Mehaignerie, chairman of the National Assembly Finance Commission, after the closed-door session.
Mr Forgeard has rejected suggestions of insider dealing but the 2.5 million euro (£1.73 million) profit he made from the stock trades has inflamed a French political furore over lavish management pay deals at a time when EADS planned to cut 1,000 jobs in south-west France.
Patrick Ollier, an ally of French President Jacques Chirac whose support for Mr Forgeard has cooled since the Airbus delays were announced in mid-June, said parliamentarians had failed to make much headway.
"The question of stock options is a difficult one to which we did not find all the answers. Each deputy (member of parliament) has the same doubts as before. It's not up to us to point the finger of accusation," he added.
The news of the Airbus delays had led investors to dump EADS shares - yesterday the stock was down another two per cent.
A source familiar with Mr Forgeard's testimony said he sought to extricate himself from embarrassment over the fact that his German counterpart at EADS, Tom Enders, had not exercised his share options.
Mr Enders had been unable to sign sale-related documents before management learned that key stakeholders were reducing stakes, because he was travelling, the source cited Mr Forgeard as saying.
By the time Mr Enders returned to base he was barred by this knowledge from selling, the source added.
EADS declined to comment but Mr Enders said last week that while it would have been attractive to sell it was "inappropriate".
Yesterday's hearing was held amid mounting evidence that the German camp at EADS wants the Frenchman to be sacked whatever the findings of a French regulatory probe into share movements.
A parliamentary source close to France's ruling UMP party said: "The Germans want him to go as soon as possible. That doesn't seem impossible to me.
"It is possible that the corporate structure could be changed and there are big questions over Forgeard's legitimacy on the German side, and to some extent on the French side."
Mr Forgeard himself suggested the current co-chief executives should be given clearer responsibilities for the various activities at EADS with one person clearly running Airbus.
German shareholder DaimlerChrysler, with the support of the French finance ministry, wants more far-reaching changes.
"It is a problem of both corporate governance and people. The Germans never appreciated the fact that Forgeard was imposed on them," the French parliamentary source said.
The Paris government is increasingly frustrated over the two-week-old crisis in which its hands are basically tied even though it holds a 15 per cent stake in EADS.
"It's normal to ask questions and consider to what extent we can improve the governance of this group," Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said, adding decisions would come "soon".