Victims' families to urge US prosecute Boeing over fatal crashes

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON: Families of the victims of two fatal Boeing 737 MAX crashes in 2018 and 2019 will press U.S. Justice Department officials Wednesday to criminally prosecute the planemaker after a January in-flight blowout exposed continuing safety and quality issues.

Relatives and their lawyers are expected to argue that Boeing violated a 2021 deal with prosecutors to overhaul its compliance program following the crashes, which killed 346 people.

Federal prosecutors agreed to ask a judge to dismiss a criminal charge against Boeing so long as it complied with the deal's terms over a three-year period.

But a panel blew off a new Boeing 737 MAX 9 jet during a Jan 5 Alaska Airlines flight, just two days before the 2021 agreement expired.

Justice Department officials are now weighing that incident as part of a broader probe into whether Boeing violated the deal, known as a deferred prosecution agreement, or DPA, two people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

"What we're saying to DOJ is, throw out the DPA," said Nadia Milleron, whose daughter, Samya Stumo, died while traveling aboard the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 that crashed in March 2019.

"We want them to think to themselves: This is too much. There has to be accountability."

Family members argue an independent monitor is needed to ensure Boeing's compliance with the agreement. Boeing's deal had no such requirement, unlike some past agreements with other companies.

"If there was an outside monitor, the Alaska situation would not have happened," Milleron said.

Boeing and the Justice Department declined to comment.

In January 2021, Boeing agreed to pay US$2.5 billion to resolve a criminal investigation into the company's conduct surrounding the crashes.

The U.S. planemaker agreed to compensate victims' relatives and overhaul its compliance practices as part of the deal with prosecutors.

In an earlier April meeting with family members' lawyers, Justice Department officials said they were looking at circumstances outlined in the 2021 deal that could put Boeing in breach of the agreement, such as the company committing a felony or misleading U.S. officials, one of the people familiar with the matter said.

The agreement gives U.S. officials six months from the deal's Jan 7 expiration to decide whether to prosecute Boeing on a charge that the company conspired to defraud the Federal Aviation Administration or pursue other alternatives to dismissing the case.

Officials plan to do so within that time frame while investigations into the Jan. 5 in-flight blowout continue, which could inform their decision, one of the people said. The people spoke on condition of anonymity.

Prosecutors are expected to lean heavily on findings from the FAA's investigations, one of the people previously told Reuters.

The FAA, for instance, is investigating a Boeing engineer's claims that the company dismissed safety and quality concerns in the production of the planemaker's 787 and 777 jets.

In a congressional hearing last week, the engineer testified that Boeing sidelined him when he raised concerns. Reuters has not independently verified his claims, which Boeing has disputed. — Reuters

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