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Boeing prosecutors aim to decide on criminal charge by early June

Boeing prosecutors aim to decide on criminal charge by early June
A Boeing Co. building near Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles, California, US, on Monday, 8 January 2024. (Photo: Eric Thayer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The US Justice Department could decide by the first week of June whether to tear up its controversial deferred-prosecution agreement with Boeing Co, according to lawyers for the families of people killed in two crashes of 737 Max jets.

Prosecutors met with the families on Wednesday in Washington to share information about the timing of their investigation and listen to concerns. The relatives have criticised the department’s 2021 deal that would allow Boeing to escape criminal charges over crashes in 2018 and 2019 that killed 346 people, if the company met certain conditions, amended its disclosure practices and paid a $243-million fine. 

But Boeing’s most recent mishap — a midair blowout of a door plug on the fuselage of an Alaska Airlines plane in January — sparked a criminal investigation of the company’s practices and raised the possibility of ditching the DPA, which was set to expire just days after the accident. The department has until July to nix the agreement. Prosecutors aim to decide by early June to give families and Boeing enough notice of what they’re planning. A judge would still have to approve any changes to the deal. 

During the meeting in Washington, the families and their lawyers raised questions about the deferred-prosecution agreement and how it came about, according to several attendees who spoke at a press conference. But they said Justice Department prosecutors didn’t provide much detail.

“The families were very disappointed that the Justice Department refused again and again to answer their questions,” said Paul Cassell, a former federal judge who is leading the families’ efforts to scuttle the 2021 deal. “We have no idea what the Justice Department will do, which leads us to believe they’re still in bed with Boeing and are going to be moving to dismiss the charges this summer. If they move to dismiss, we will fight that motion vigorously.”

The Justice Department and Boeing declined to comment on the meeting. 

Zipporah Kuria, a UK resident whose father died in the Ethiopian Airlines crash, described the meeting in Washington as “another day of just being stonewalled” by government lawyers. “Ultimately, what the Department of Justice does in America sets the tone for what justice looks like globally,” Kuria said. “We’re imploring and really beseeching the Department of Justice to make the right decision to make sure that nobody else has to go through what we’ve gone through.”

The Justice Department under Attorney General Merrick Garland inherited the deferred-prosecution agreement, which was signed during the last days of the Trump administration. Justice officials apologised to family members during the meeting on Wednesday over how the DPA came together, but said they weren’t at liberty to discuss any of their internal findings or deliberations because they relate to the ongoing review and criminal investigation.

If the Justice Department decides to withdraw from the DPA, it would have to file a motion in the Texas federal court where the deal was originally made. The judge overseeing the case would then have to decide if ditching the agreement was in the public interest.

Mark Lindquist, who’s been an attorney for dozens of victim families in the two 737 Max crashes and is also representing passengers in the Alaska Airlines accident, said in a separate interview with Bloomberg that prosecutors heard “a lot of anger and frustration that these problems at Boeing that killed their loved ones are still continuing”.

“We are angry” at Justice Department prosecutors, said Catherine Berthet of France, who lost her daughter. “We are so angry. It’s not complicated. They just have to do their job.”

Read More: Boeing Crash Victims’ Families Seek to Help DOJ’s Criminal Probe


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