Boeing Broke Terms of Settlement to Avoid Prosecution, Say Feds

Charisma Madarang / Rolling Stone

The company came under renewed scrutiny after a 737 Max 9 door panel was blown out mid-flight

Following the deaths of 346 victims of the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines accidents, prosecutors criminally charged Boeing with defrauding safety officials by circumventing proper federal oversight of its aircraft design.

Boeing paid $2.5 billion to defer prosecution for three years, after which the charges would usually be dropped — but the Justice Department claimed in a court filing Tuesday that the company breached the terms of the settlement.

In a letter to the federal judge presiding over the case, the Justice Department said that Boeing had failed “to design, implement, and enforce a compliance and ethics program to prevent and detect violations of the U.S. fraud laws throughout its operations.” The letter added, “For failing to fulfill completely the terms of and obligations under the [deferred prosecution agreement], Boeing is subject to prosecution by the United States for any federal criminal violation of which the United States has knowledge.”

The Justice Department notes it can specifically prosecute Boeing over the criminal charge that was the subject of the settlement agreement — conspiracy to defraud the United States. As part of its deferred prosecution agreement, Boeing “knowingly waive[d] any right it may have to indictment on this charge.”

A string of unsettling incidents that involve Boeing‘s 737 Max models have shaken the public’s faith in the the company’s aircraft. Whistleblowers testified in April that Boeing has prioritized profits over safety — days later, CEO Dave Calhoun said in a statement to employees that the company had taken “significant steps to strengthen quality and safety,” and that a “Boeing airplane safely takes off or lands just about every second of every day.”

In January, just six minutes after taking off from Portland, Oregon, a 737 Max 9 airplane lost a door plug and the door suddenly blew out from the airframe. All passengers and crew survived, with several minor injuries reported. Passengers filed a class-action suit against Boeing, claiming emotional trauma.

The Boeing settlement agreement relates to Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines tragedies that occurred years prior. In October 2018, Lion Air flight JT 610 crashed into the Java Sea only 13 minutes after taking off from Jakarta, bound for another island in Indonesia, killing all 189 on board. The plane, a 737 Max 8, was in the first accident involving a 737 Max and the deadliest 737 accident since the line was introduced in 1967.

Just months after, another Max 8 crashed into a field six minutes after taking from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, en route to Nairobi, Kenya, in March 2019. All 157 people aboard were killed.