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Wed, Nov 26, 2003 - Page 12 News List

Boeing sacks top executive for `unethical conduct'

AP , CHICAGO

Boeing Co unexpectedly fired its top financial executive on Monday for unethical conduct, saying he negotiated the hiring of a missile defense expert while she worked for the US government and was in a position to influence Boeing contracts.

The former Air Force official, Darleen Druyun, was dismissed along with chief financial officer Mike Sears -- 10 months after she was hired as vice president and deputy general manager of Boeing's Missile Defense Systems unit.

The 56-year-old Sears had held top positions in each of Boeing's top businesses, commercial aircraft and defense, before being named to the financial post three-and-a-half years ago at Chicago headquarters. He had been considered a top candidate to succeed 62-year-old Phil Condit as CEO.

The disclosure is another black eye for Boeing's booming defense-contract business, which had US$1 billion in government rocket business stripped in July after the Air Force ruled that the company broke the law by using records from rival Lockheed Martin to help win contracts.

It also refocuses attention on the government's controversial multibillion-dollar plan to acquire 100 of its 767 planes for use as midair refueling tankers. The Pentagon's Office of the Inspector General has been looking into allegations Druyun acted improperly in giving Boeing financial information about a competing bid by Airbus.

Boeing said Sears was dismissed for violating company policies by communicating directly and indirectly with Druyun about future employment last year before she had disqualified herself from acting in her official government capacity on matters involving the company.

It also said an internal review found recently that both attempted to conceal their misconduct.

"Compelling evidence of this misconduct by Mr. Sears and Ms. Druyun came to light over the last two weeks," Condit said, without elaborating.

The company continued to maintain it committed no wrongdoing during the leasing-plan process.

The aerospace giant named James Bell acting chief financial officer.

He had been serving as senior vice president of finance and corporate controller.

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