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Boeing agrees to plead guilty to conspiracy to defraud the US government

The US Department of Justice and Boeing have reached an agreement that the latter will plead guilty to a conspiracy to defraud the US government charge stemming from two fatal crashes that killed 346 people in 2018 and 2019, the New York Times reports.

In May, the DOJ announced that Boeing violated its 2021 deal to pay penalties and compensation, as well as implement major safety changes — just four months prior, a cabin panel blew off an Alaska Airlines flight while it was at 16,000 feet in the air. The DOJ offered the company a plea deal on June 30, giving it one week to accept or face a trial.

Boeing had struck a deal in 2021 over these crashes with the agency, promising to implement major safety changes and engage in no wrongdoing for three years. In May, the DOJ announced the company had violated the agreement, and on June 30 it offered Boeing a choice: accept a plea deal within one week or go to trial.

If the new agreement is approved by the court, Boeing will have to pay a fine of $487.2 million — however, part of it could be covered by payments made in the original agreement. Boeing will also be required to invest at least $455 million in safety and compliance over the next three years and have a DOJ-appointed third-party monitor its progress.

The deal was criticized as insufficient for  the crash victims. “This sweetheart deal fails to recognize that because of Boeing’s conspiracy, 346 people died,” Paul Cassell, a lawyer representing some of the families, said. “Through crafty lawyering between Boeing and DoJ, the deadly consequences of Boeing’s crime are being hidden.”

In 2021, Boeing agreed to pay its customers $1.77 billion in compensation after authorities grounded the 737 Max plane for a year and a half. The deal also included the company paying $243.6 million in fines and $500 million into a crash-victim fund for the heirs, relatives and legal beneficiaries of the passengers killed in the flights near Indonesia and Ethiopia.

The Federal Aviation Administration’s Aircraft Evaluation Group (FAA AEG) determined that the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) activated while both planes were in flight and was the likely point of failure. Two Boeing 737 Max flight technical pilots deceived the FAA AEG two years before the first crash, concealing information about an important change to the MCAS. If approved, the new deal will be Boeing’s first new felony in decades.

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