Boeing might be criminally prosecuted for 737 MAX crashes after all, says DoJ

Aviation firm has violated 2021 deferred prosecution agreement, claims DoJ, so criminal charges could come back

Boeing avoided prosecution for a pair of 737 Max crashes thanks to a 2021 agreement with the Department of Justice, but the DoJ says the jetmaker has since violated the order and can be prosecuted. 

The DoJ accused Boeing of failing to uphold its end of the deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) in a letter [PDF] to US District Court for the Northern District of Texas Reed O'Connor, who oversaw the original case that led to the DPA and a $2.5 billion fine. 

The original crash case saw Boeing facing charges it had conspired to commit fraud by withholding safety information from federal aviation officials. The two 737 Max crashes in Indonesia in 2018 and Ethiopia in 2019 killed 346 people. 

According to the DoJ's statement with the original settlement, Boeing admitted in court that it had "deceived" the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) about the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), resulting in key documents lacking necessary details about the system, and leaving pilots unprepared. 

Boeing agreed to report any future instances of fraud as well as enhancing its compliance rules as part of the settlement agreement. 

Boeing breached its DPA obligations, however, "by failing to design, implement, and enforce a compliance and ethics program to prevent and detect violations of the U.S. fraud laws throughout its operations," the DoJ claims. The Department didn't name any specific incidents in which it believed Boeing violated the DPA. 

The aircraft maker has had a tricky time of it over the past few months.

There's the Alaska Airlines door plug blowout, over which Boeing was criticized for bad record keeping. Numerous whistleblowers have come forward alleging safety failures at the company, and the FAA's own investigation into the firm found numerous failures at Boeing to cultivate an adequate safety culture. 

That last item may be the key when it comes to the DoJ's claims Boeing is failing to meet DPA obligations: the FAA said it "found a lack of awareness of safety-related metrics at all levels of the organization" and skepticism about the very idea of implementing a new safety management system.

"The Government is determining how it will proceed in this matter," the DoJ said in its letter, and gave itself a deadline of July 7 to announce its plans to prosecute - or not. 

Boeing has to issue a response by June 13, the DoJ said, and it wants that response to include how its DPA breach was allowed to occur and what it's done to remedy the situation. The explanation will be taken into account when determining whether to pursue prosecution, the DoJ noted.

Boeing, naturally, doesn't believe it has done anything wrong. The company confirmed in a statement that it had received the letter from the DoJ, but believes it has honored the terms of the DPA and "look[s] forward to the opportunity to respond to the Department on this issue." 

"We will engage with the Department with the utmost transparency, as we have throughout the entire term of the agreement, including in response to their questions following the Alaska Airlines 1282 accident," a Boeing spokesperson told The Register

The DPA, which only lasted for three years, was due to expire this coming July. ®

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