US prosecutors have reportedly recommended that the aircraft maker be charged for failing to abide by terms of a fraud settlement Relatives of airliner crash victims confront Boeing CEO David Calhoun during his appearance at a US Senate hearing last week in Washington. © Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) is reportedly considering a criminal indictment of aerospace giant Boeing for allegedly violating the terms of a 2021 settlement that shielded the company from charges over airliner crashes that killed 346 people.

Prosecutors have recommended to senior DOJ officials that charges be filed against Boeing, Reuters reported on Sunday, citing unnamed people familiar with the department’s deliberations. A decision on whether to prosecute the company is due by July 7.

The DOJ claimed in a court filing last month that Boeing had breached a 2021 agreement over allegations that the company defrauded federal aviation authorities in connection with fatal 737 MAX airliner crashes in 2018 and 2019. Under the settlement, the aircraft maker avoided prosecution by agreeing to pay a $2.5 billion fine and implement new compliance and ethics practices to prevent violations of US fraud laws.

Hundreds of Boeings at risk of midair explosion – media Hundreds of Boeings at risk of midair explosion – media

Boeing responded by arguing that it had honored the terms of the 2021 agreement. However, the company has suffered a spate of safety incidents in recent months, including an inflight blowout of a door panel on a 737 MAX 9 operated by Alaska Airlines.

The Alaska scare occurred just two days before the DOJ settlement was scheduled to expire. Prosecutors had previously agreed to seek formal dismissal of the deferred fraud charge as long as Boeing complied with the deal’s terms over a three-year period.

Apart from the legal compliance issues, Boeing has reportedly failed a federal safety audit of its manufacturing processes in the wake of the midair door blowout. The New York Times reported in March that Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) investigators found dozens of quality-control shortcomings, including the use of dish soap and a hotel key card as makeshift tools. The FAA also launched a probe of possible falsification of inspection records at a Boeing factory in South Carolina.

No final decision has been made by the DOJ on indicting Boeing, and internal discussions remain ongoing, Reuters said. Potential charges could go beyond the scope of the 2021 fraud settlement. One of the sources said other options include extending the earlier settlement agreement or imposing stricter compliance terms on Boeing.

While the manufacturer might accept having an outside compliance monitor or paying a financial penalty, facing criminal charges or being forced to enter a guilty plea could be “too damaging” to its business, Reuters said. Boeing is a major defense contractor, and its government revenue might be jeopardized by a criminal conviction.

Relatives of 737 MAX crash victims urged the DOJ last week to move forward with criminal prosecution and seek a $24.8 billion fine against the company. (RT)