By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON – U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland plans to meet with relatives and lawyers of victims of fatal Boeing 737 MAX crashes after some challenged a deferred prosecution agreement struck with the planemaker, the Justice Department said.
In December, some victims’ relatives said the Department had violated their rights when it struck the January 2021 agreement with Boeing over the two crashes in a five-month period that killed 346 people.
They filed a motion arguing the United States government “lied and violated their rights through a secret process”, and asked a U.S. judge to rescind Boeing’s immunity from criminal prosecution, which was part of the $2.5 billion agreement, and order the planemaker publicly arraigned on the felony charges.
The Justice Department said in a court filing late Wednesday the meeting with Garland would take place “within the next week”, and that it wanted to delay responding to the families’ motion until then.
A Garland spokesman and Boeing both declined comment.
The January 2021 settlement allowed Boeing to avoid prosecution, and includes a fine of $243.6 million, compensation to airlines of $1.77 billion and a $500 million crash-victim fund over fraud conspiracy charges related to the plane’s flawed design.
Michael Stumo, whose daughter Samya died in the Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX crash, said he was pleased Garland will meet with crash victim relatives. “Attorney General Garland has a chance to fix this injustice, hold Boeing accountable, and deter future corporate criminal behavior,” Stumo said.
The Justice Department deal capped a 21-month investigation into the design and development of the 737 MAX following the two crashes, in Indonesia and Ethiopia in 2018 and 2019.
The crashes “exposed fraudulent and deceptive conduct by employees of one of the world’s leading commercial airplane manufacturers,” the Justice Department said.
In October, a former Boeing chief technical pilot for Boeing was charged with fraud for deceiving federal regulators evaluating the company’s 737 MAX jet. He has denied wrongdoing.
The crashes, which cost Boeing some $20 billion and led to the plane’s 20-month grounding that was lifted in late 2020, prompted Congress to pass legislation reforming new airplane certification.
The $243 million fine, which the Justice Department said was at the “low end” of the sentencing guidelines, represented the amount Boeing saved by not implementing full-flight simulator training.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by John Stonestreet)