737 MAX crashes: “Boeing is responsible”, relatives of victims assert in court
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Holding up photos of passengers killed in two 737 MAX crashes, relatives of victims pleaded in a Texas court on Thursday, sometimes in tears, for harsher penalties against Boeing and its leaders.
“Boeing is responsible. It's obvious, “said Catherine Berthet, whose daughter Camille died in the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines flight. And yet “no one has been arrested or charged,” she lamented.
“We want to see them in prison” abounded at the exit of the hearing Paul Njoroge, who lost his wife and children in the same flight. “Why did the Department of Justice try to protect Boeing? »
At issue: an agreement reached in January 2021 by the ministry with the aircraft manufacturer Boeing, accusing it of having misled the aviation regulator during the authorization process for the MCAS, a key system on the aircraft implicated in the crashes, but also granting it some immunity in exchange for $2.5 billion in fines and compensation and certain conditions to be met.
< p>The so-called Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) provides that the ministry withdraws the charge after three years if the company meets certain conditions.
An arrangement far too complacent in the eyes of the families, who took legal action for not having been consulted.
The magistrate in charge of the case at the Fort Worth court, Reed O'Connor, acknowledged in October that they could be considered “victims of crimes” and therefore had, as such, the right to be heard. He then summoned all parties to a hearing on Thursday.
The families there pleaded for the agreement to be modified, including the appointment of an independent auditor and the lifting of the provision granting immunity to company officials for the plane crashes of Lion Air in 2018 and Ethiopian Airlines in 2019, which killed a total of 346 people.
“We want them to go see Boeing to seize documents and examine them” justified Paul Njoroge. “We know they will conclude that senior Boeing officials committed fraud.
Boeing pleads 'not guilty'
A representative of Boeing pleaded not guilty on behalf of the company at the start of the hearing on Thursday.
The judge then asked the department for more information about the deal and said he will make a decision at a later date.
The families' lawyer, Paul Cassell, expects a quick return.
“The provision guaranteeing immunity to Boeing and in fact to all its leaders (…) goes against federal law,” he said as he left court.
Boeing and the US Department of Justice oppose reopening the deal.
“We have made broad and deep changes to the company, as well as design changes to the 737 MAX, to ensure that such accidents never happen again,” Boeing said in a statement Thursday.
“We are also committed to continuing to strictly comply with all obligations set out in the agreement reached with the Ministry of Justice two years ago,” the company added.
In its indictment, the ministry had singled out the actions of two employees of the aircraft manufacturer, but had not implicated the management.
Prosecutors had also found there was no need to appoint an independent auditor because the wrongdoing was “not widespread” or “facilitated by senior officials”.
Whether the magistrate will grant the families' requests remains very uncertain.
“The judge could cancel the DPA, but I think it is unlikely,” said John Coffee, a professor at Columbia University, for whom the he agreement is indicative of the authorities' tendency not to go after big business too hard.
When it comes to prosecution, “the law grants prosecutors and the executive branch great discretion,” he told AFP.
Brandon Garrett, a lawyer at Duke University, believes that the courts do not take sufficient account of the general interest when they have to whether or not to validate the PADs.
But even if Judge O'Connor decides to review the agreement, “I imagine that the department would apply el by invoking his right to stay the charges, ”he notes.