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Boeing could be prosecuted in the US over the 737 MAX crashes that killed 346 people


A new twist in the safety crisis engulfing Boeing could see the airline face prosecution over the 737 MAX 8 crashes in 2018 and 2019 that killed 346 people.

Late Tuesday, it was announced that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) had filed a case accusing the plane maker of violating its obligations under a 2021 agreement that shielded Boeing from criminal prosecution over the crashes.

Than, Boeing agreed to pay $2.5 billion to resolve the investigation into its conduct, compensate victims’ relatives and overhaul its compliance practices.

The terms of that deal – known as a deferred prosecution agreement – were due to expire in January this year, but two days before that a Boeing 737MAX Nine Alaska Airlines planes suffered a burst from the panel in the air.

The eruption has been the subject of investigation by multiple agencies, including the DoJ.

The court filing exposes Boeing to possible criminal prosecution over the 2018 and 2019 crashes, which could bring even higher financial penalties and stricter oversight, adding to the new corporate crisis and reputational damage from the January blowout would be further explored.

The DoJ said that while Boeing is now being prosecuted, it would consider steps the planemaker has taken to address and remediate the breach of the pact before deciding how to proceed.

It ordered the company to respond by mid-June and said it would make a decision by July 7 on whether to pursue a new criminal case.

“We believe we have complied with the terms of that agreement and look forward to the opportunity to respond to this matter with the Department,” Boeing said in a statement.

It added: “If we do this, we will work with the Department with the utmost transparency, as we have done throughout the term of the agreement, including in response to their questions following the Alaska Airlines 1282 accident .”

The Reuters news agency reported that DoJ officials would meet with families of the victims of the 2018 and 2019 crashes as part of their deliberations.

Family members have long been critical of the original deferred prosecution agreement, saying it upset Boeing.

The MAX 8 fleet was withdrawn from service for twenty months in the aftermath of the war Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 disaster outside Addis Ababa in March 2019.

All 157 on board were killed.

Six months earlier, a Lion sky 737 MAX 8, with 189 passengers and crew on board, had crashed in Indonesia.

Poorly designed flight control software was ultimately blamed for both accidents.

The MAX 9 incident on January 5 this year resulted in a new wave of investigation.

Regulators have restricted Boeing’s production schedules and a widespread management change is underway.

The knock-on effects of the crisis have damaged deliveries and the expansion plans of its customers, including Ryanair.

The aircraft manufacturer and regulators are widely accused of not having learned lessons from the past.

At a Senate hearing in April, a Boeing engineer testified that the company took dangerous production cuts on certain planes and sidelined him when he raised safety concerns.

Boeing has denied the claims and any suggestion that it is putting profit before safety.