Boeing chief fired over tanker scandal

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The Independent Online

Boeing's chief financial officer was fired yesterday over a mounting industrial espionage scandal involving the US aerospace and defence giant and its European rival Airbus Industrie.

Mike Sears, who was seen in some quarters as a potential successor to Boeing's chairman, Phil Condit, was dismissed after "compelling evidence of misconduct" came to light in the past two weeks, according to the company.

Boeing also fired a former US Air Force official, Darleen Druyun, who gave the company confidential information about a rival bid by Airbus for a $20bn tanker refuelling contract while she was still working for the Pentagon.

An internal review had discovered that Mr Sears had violated company policy by communicating with Ms Druyun while she was still acting in a government capacity on matters relating to the company. They had both also attempted to conceal their misconduct, Boeing said.

"Upon review of the facts, our board of directors determined that immediate dismissal of both individuals for cause was the appropriate course of action," Mr Condit said. Mr Sears has been replaced by Boeing's senior vice-president of finance, James Bell, who has been appointed acting chief financial officer.

The sackings could not come at a more sensitive time for Boeing as it battles with an Airbus consortium for a £13bn contract to supply similar air-to-air refuelling tankers to the RAF. The Ministry of Defence is expected to make a decision next month between the Boeing-led Tanker Team and Air Tanker, the rival consortium headed by EADS, the majority shareholder in Airbus.

Apart from supplying Boeing with information about the USAF tanker contract, Ms Druyun also had several personal ties with individual Boeing employees, it emerged during the investigations.

While she was deputy head of procurement for the Air Force, she agreed to sell her home to a Boeing lawyer who was working on the tanker contract. Her daughter and son-in-law were also Boeing employees. Ms Druyun was subsequently hired as vice-president of Boeing's missile defence systems business 10 months ago.

Under the original tanker deal, Boeing had agreed to lease 100 Boeing 767s to the USAF for use as air-to-air refuelling tankers. Ms Druyun told Boeing that Airbus had submitted a bid which was $5m to $17m cheaper per aircraft than Boeing's bid.

In the British contest, Boeing is offering the RAF a fleet of 21 converted British Airways 767s. The EADS-led consortium is offering a mix of new and used Airbus A330s.

The contest is shaping up as one of the most bitterly fought procurement battles in years, with Boeing questioning the safety, flexibility and cost of the Airbus offer and Airbus retorting that to buy second-hand 767s could risk a re-run of the Nimrod fiasco. Both sides have also played the jobs card heavily.