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Boeing must either plead guilty to felony fraud or go to trial against the US government as the next step in a criminal case stemming from its door panel blowout, according to the latest terms offered to the company by the Department of Justice. 

Under the potential plea agreement, the airline would plead guilty to one charge of conspiring to defraud the US and pay a fine of $243.6mn, the second criminal penalty of this size in the case, according to someone familiar with the matter.

The move comes after the DoJ notified Boeing it had breached the deferred prosecution agreement it signed in 2021 in the wake of the fatal Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max crashes.

The notification followed the mid-air blowout that terrified passengers of an Alaska Airlines flight earlier this year.

The potential agreement, which was communicated to Boeing and the victims’ families on Sunday, would also require Boeing to accept a government-appointed monitor as well as three years of probation, said the person familiar with the matter. 

Boeing has until close of business Friday to respond to the DoJ, after which US courts must be notified by midnight Sunday.

Boeing declined to comment. Paul Cassell, a lawyer who represents families of victims in the 737 Max crashes, said the DoJ was “preparing to offer to Boeing another sweetheart plea deal”.

Families “will strenuously object to this plea deal” and “plan to send a formal objection to the Justice Department soon,” he added.

Agreeing to a guilty plea could raise questions around Boeing’s ability to secure contracts with the US government, which make up a significant portion of its revenue — an increasingly important source of funds as the business faces steep costs in its commercial division. 

The legal wrangling comes as Boeing has agreed to buy Spirit AeroSystems in a deal valuing the airline supplier at $4.7bn. 

Boeing had spun off the parts builder in 2005 but remained its biggest customer. It has said repurchasing the airline supplier would boost safety in the manufacturing process.

Additional reporting by Steff Chávez in Washington

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