Boeing to pay $2.5b to settle US fraud charges over 737 MAX

In this file photo a Boeing 737 MAX airliner with United Airlines markings is pictured at the Boeing Factory in Renton, Washington on November 18, 2020. (Photo: VCG)

US prosecutors on Thursday hit Boeing with $2.5 billion in fines, settling a criminal charge over claims the company defrauded regulators overseeing the 737 MAX, which was grounded worldwide following two deadly crashes.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) said Boeing reached a deferred prosecution agreement related to the company's pronouncements to regulators during the certification of the MAX, which was taken out of service for 20 months after the crashes and only recently cleared to return to the skies.

Prosecutors described Boeing's failings in withering terms, accusing the company of spreading "half-truths" and engaging in a "cover-up."

"The tragic crashes of Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 exposed fraudulent and deceptive conduct by employees of one of the world's leading commercial airplane manufacturers," said Acting Attorney General David Burns.

"Boeing's employees chose the path of profit over candor by concealing material information from the FAA concerning the operation of its 737 Max airplane and engaging in an effort to cover up their deception."

Under the agreement, Boeing must meet with the DOJ's fraud section at least quarterly and attest regularly to its compliance program. The charges will be dismissed after three years if Boeing meets the conditions, and the company will also cooperate with prosecutors on any ongoing or future probes.

Boeing will pay a fine of $243.6 million and provide $500 million in additional compensation to families of victims, plus $1.8 billion in additional payments to airline customers.

Boeing said it was pleased to move past the DOJ probe.

"I firmly believe that entering into this resolution is the right thing for us to do – a step that appropriately acknowledges how we fell short of our values and expectations," Chief Executive David Calhoun said in a statement.

"This resolution is a serious reminder to all of us of how critical our obligation of transparency to regulators is, and the consequences that our company can face if any one of us falls short of those expectations."

The MAX made its first US commercial flight since the grounding last month in what the manufacturer hopes will mark a turning point following the scandal and the general downturn in air travel caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.