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US Accused Of Offering Boeing ‘sweetheart Deal’ Over Fatal Crashes

The US Department of Justice is set to charge Boeing with fraud, but plans to offer the planemaker a plea deal, according to sources familiar with the matter – infuriating the loved ones of hundreds of passengers who died in two fatal crashes five years ago.

Boeing will be granted until the end of this week to decide whether it will plead guilty to the charge and avoid trial, officials told families of those on board the fatal Lion Air flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 that claimed 346 lives.

Attorneys representing the relatives accused the federal government of cooking up “another sweetheart plea deal” with Boeing. On a conference call on Sunday, one official is said to have been asked by a family member how he sleeps at night.

Relatives were briefed on the terms of the proposed deal during the call: Boeing would pay a fine, face a three-year term of probation, and work under a corporate monitor, according to two sources.

The terms unleashed a wave of anger. “The memory of 346 innocents killed by Boeing demands more justice than this,” said Paul Cassell, who represents the families of 15 crash victims.

The justice department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sunday. Boeing did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The two crashes of Boeing’s 737 Max, in October 2018 and March 2019, killed 346 people. It prompted the worldwide grounding of the jet for almost two years.

In 2021, the justice department and Boeing reached a controversial deal that protected the company from a criminal conspiracy charge to commit fraud that arose from the two crashes.

Earlier this year, however – as the company came under intense scrutiny after a brand-new 737 Max jet was forced into an emergency landing when a cabin panel blew off mid-flight – the justice department said Boeing had breached this agreement.

The deal it has been offered “appears to be a sweetheart deal”, said Sanjiv Singh, counsel for 16 families of crash victims, citing a request for the Department of Justice to independently appoint a corporate monitor of Boeing, rather that permit the company to nominate its own candidates. “I am stunned that the department deflected our demand and fell back on ‘oh it’s policy’,” he said.

Relatives of those who died “will strenuously object to this plea deal”, said Cassell, who described the agreement as a “no-accountability-deal”.

“The deal will not acknowledge, in any way, that Boeing’s crime killed 346 people,” Cassell said. “It also appears to rest on the idea that Boeing did not harm any victim.”

Separately, as Boeing continues to grapple with the crisis triggered by January’s cabin blowout, Reuters reported on Sunday that it had agreed to buy Spirit AeroSystems – a key supplier – in a deal which values the firm at more than $4bn.

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