Patricia Dunn, the former chairman of Hewlett-Packard, pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to criminal charges stemming from a haywire investigation into boardroom leaks that shook the world’s second-biggest computer maker this year.

Ms Dunn entered the plea on Wednesday at a courthouse in San Jose.

She and four other defendants face charges of wire fraud, identity theft, and improper use of computer data over their alleged role in a leak investigation in which operatives working on behalf of the HP board posed as journalists, board members and employees in order to obtain private telephone records. Each charge could lead to up to three years in jail.

Controversy over the investigators’ tactics, which also included physical surveillance and an e-mail “sting” operation against a reporter suspected of receiving leaked information, led to the departure of Ms Dunn and other top HP officials, including the company’s top lawyer, Ann Baskins, in September.

Ms Dunn, who is undergoing treatment for ovarian cancer, told Congress in September that she regretted the tactics used in the probe but said she was not responsible for them.

Ms Dunn’s lawyer did not return messages seeking comment on Wednesday.

The spying controversy shook the US business community, which had long viewed HP as a model of corporate virtue. The controversy has also overshadowed a turnaround in fortunes at HP, which is set to report its quarterly results after the closing bell on Thursday.

Although HP remains a close second to International Business Machines in the worldwide computer market by revenues, the company’s shares have climbed steadily over the past 18 months on the back of a cost cutting drive and a string of better-than-expected results under chief executive Mark Hurd.

Earlier this month, HP reclaimed the top spot in personal computer shipments from Dell, its struggling arch-rival, for the first time in three years.

Shares of HP dipped 1.7 per cent to $40 on Wednesday ahead of the company’s results. They had hit a multi-year high of $40.67 on Tuesday. Dell is also set to report its results on Thursday.

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