Boeing executives unlikely to be charged over 737 MAX crashes

NEW YORK – Boeing executives are unlikely to be criminally charged over fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019 that killed 346 people as the statute of limitations has likely passed, US Justice Department officials told victims’ family members in a meeting.

Details were corroborated by a person familiar with the gathering on May 31 and correspondence reviewed by Reuters.

The deadline for prosecuting most federal crimes is five years.

The Justice Department found in mid-May that Boeing violated a 2021 deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) that had shielded the company from a criminal charge arising from the fatal crashes.

Officials agreed to ask a judge to dismiss the charge of conspiring to defraud the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as long as Boeing abided by the terms of the agreement over a three-year period ending Jan 7, 2024.

But an in-flight blowout two days before the agreement expired exposed ongoing safety and quality issues. A panel blew off a new Boeing 737 MAX 9 jet during a Jan 5 Alaska Airlines flight.

Boeing has until June 13 to outline any disagreements with the department’s finding that it violated the 2021 agreement.

Officials have until July 7 to inform a federal judge in Texas of its plans.

“We have honoured the terms of the agreement,” Boeing said in a statement on June 1.

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The department is weighing several options, including whether to prosecute Boeing or extend the DPA by a year. Officials could also enter into a new DPA or reach a non-prosecution agreement that does not involve court supervision.

Officials could also seek to negotiate a plea deal with Boeing over the 2021 fraud charge or take the company to trial over it.

Boeing could also face charges over its behaviour during the three-year term of the DPA, though officials have not found evidence of any felonies committed during that period, prosecutors told the victims’ families, according to the source familiar with meeting.

Victims’ family members are discussing asking officials to seek an enhanced sentence should Boeing be prosecuted and convicted, the source told Reuters.

In the meeting, Justice Department officials said they believe they are unable to prove cases of federal manslaughter or fraud involving aircraft parts beyond a reasonable doubt, the person added.

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