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US government to offer Boeing ‘sweetheart deal’, lawyer says

A lawyer representing victims of two fatal Boeing 737 Max crashes has told the BBC that the US government is preparing to offer the plane maker a “sweetheart plea deal”.

Paul Cassell, who says he got the information “directly from the Justice Department”, added that the deal includes a small fine, three years of probation and independent safety audits.

Boeing did not immediately reply to the BBC’s request for comment, while the Justice Department (DoJ) declined to provide a statement.

Last month, US prosecutors recommended that the DoJ bring criminal charges against the plane maker.

That was after the DoJ said Boeing had violated a 2021 settlement related to the crashes which killed 346 people.

“The memory of 346 innocents killed by Boeing demands more justice than this,” said Mr Cassell, adding that the “families will strenuously object to this plea deal”.

The plane crashes – both involving Boeing’s 737 Max aircraft – occurred within six months of each other.

The crash involving Indonesia’s Lion Air occurred in October 2018, followed by an Ethiopian Airlines flight in March 2019.

Both crashes were linked to faulty flight control systems.

A letter sent last month by Mr Cassell to the DoJ revealed that the families had been seeking prosecutions of Boeing’s top executives at the time of the crashes and a fine of $24.8bn (£19.6bn) for “the deadliest corporate crime in US history”.

The Justice Department has until 7 July to decide whether to revive a criminal charge of fraud brought against Boeing in 2021.

That charge has lain dormant since the company acknowledged in a settlement that it had misled air-safety regulators about aspects of the 737 Max, and promised to create a new compliance system to detect and prevent further fraud.

Under the deal reached in 2021, Boeing said it would pay a $2.5bn settlement and prosecutors agreed to ask the court to drop a criminal charge after three years if the company abided by certain stipulations set out in the deferred prosecution agreement.

But in May, the DoJ said Boeing was in breach of the deal, stating that it had failed to “design, implement, and enforce a compliance and ethics program to prevent and detect violations of the US fraud laws throughout its operations”.

Earlier this year Boeing was again put in the spotlight when a door panel fell off a new 737 Max plane during an Alaska Airlines flight.

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