Boeing agrees to plea deal to avoid criminal trial over deadly 737 Max crashes

Boeing has agreed to plead guilty to a criminal fraud conspiracy charge to avoid a criminal trial in connection with a Justice Department investigation into two deadly crashes involving 737 MAX jetliners, FOX Business can confirm.

The criminal case relates to two 737 MAX jetliner crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia in 2018 and 2019 in which 346 people were killed, leading to demands from the victims’ families for Boeing to face prosecution.

“We can confirm that we have reached an agreement in principle on terms of a resolution with the Justice Department, subject to the memorialization and approval of specific terms,” a spokesperson for Boeing told FOX Business.

The plea deal still requires a federal judge’s approval, but would label the plane manufacturer a convicted felon if accepted. As part of the plea, Boeing will also pay a criminal fine of $243.6 million, a DOJ official told Reuters.

BOEING AGREES TO BUY SPIRIT AEROSYSTEMS FOR $4.7B AS MANUFACTURER ADDRESSES SAFETY CONCERNS

Troubled plane manufacturer Boeing will plead guilty to a criminal fraud conspiracy charge to avoid a criminal trial over two deadly crashes involving 737 MAX jetliners. (OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images / Getty Images)

That fine is on top of the $243.6 million Boeing paid after the DOJ said it breached a 2021 settlement by not complying with certain conditions agreed upon during the settlement.

The deal only covers the company, not any current or former Boeing officials, the DOJ told Reuters, adding that charges against any person are unlikely because of the statute of limitations.

FOX Business has reached out to the Justice Department for comment, but did not hear back by time of publication.

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Federal prosecutors had offered Boeing the option of entering a guilty plea and paying a fine or going to trial on the felony criminal charge of conspiracy to defraud the Federal Aviation Administration over a software feature linked to the fatal crashes.

A lawyer for some of the families criticized the plea agreement as a “sweetheart deal” and said they plan to oppose the deal in court, according to Reuters.

US PROSECUTORS RECOMMEND CRIMINAL CHARGES AGAINST BOEING FOR VIOLATING SETTLEMENT: REPORT

Boeing Sign

The criminal case relates to two 737 MAX jetliner crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia in 2018 and 2019, in which a total of 346 people were killed. (David Ryder/Bloomberg via Getty Images / Getty Images)

This comes after Boeing agreed last week to purchase Spirit AeroSystems to shore up safety concerns.

Boeing has also agreed to invest at least $455 million over the next three years to bolster its safety and compliance programs. The DOJ will appoint a third party to oversee Boeing’s compliance.

Alaska Boeing 737 Max 9

A plastic sheet covers an area of the fuselage of the Alaska Airlines N704AL Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft outside a hangar at Portland International Airport on Jan. 8 in Portland, Oregon. (Mathieu Lewis-Rolland/Getty Images / Getty Images)

The Justice Department’s decision to charge Boeing came months after a separate incident on Jan. 5 in which a door plug blew out in mid-air on an Alaska Airlines flight traveling from Portland, Oregon, to Ontario, California.

That flight, which involved Boeing’s 737 MAX 9 jetliner, was forced to make an emergency landing in Portland shortly after takeoff and ultimately exposed ongoing safety and quality issues by the planemaker.

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The Alaska Airlines flight happened just two days before the expiration of the 2021 deferred prosecution agreement that had protected Boeing from prosecution over the deadly crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia.

The plea agreement only covers Boeing’s conduct before the fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019 and does not protect the company from any other potential charges.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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