US prosecutors are engaging with Boeing and the relatives of victims from fatal crashes as the July 7 deadline approaches for the Justice Department to determine whether to file criminal charges against the aircraft manufacturer, according to two individuals knowledgeable about the situation and correspondence examined by Reuters.

Justice Department officials convened with Boeing's legal representatives on Thursday to address the government's conclusion that Boeing breached a 2021 agreement with the department, as stated by one of the sources. This agreement, termed a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA), had previously protected Boeing from criminal prosecution related to the two 737 MAX crashes in 2018 and 2019, which resulted in the deaths of 346 individuals. Additionally, federal prosecutors are scheduled to meet with the families of the victims on Sunday to provide updates on the investigation's progress, according to the second source. US officials are operating on a 'tight timeline,' as indicated in an email from the DOJ reviewed by Reuters.

Boeing's legal team from Kirkland & Ellis on Thursday argued to officials from the Deputy Attorney General's office that prosecution would be unjustified and that there was no necessity to invalidate the 2021 agreement, as mentioned by one of the individuals. Such defenses from companies under the DOJ's scrutiny are common during negotiations to settle a government investigation. Officials are seeking input from family members as they contemplate their next steps, according to the email. Prosecutors from the Justice Department's criminal fraud division and the US attorney's office in Dallas will be present at the Sunday meeting.

Representatives from the DOJ and Boeing have declined to comment. Boeing has previously stated that it has 'honored the terms' of the settlement and formally informed prosecutors of its disagreement with the finding that it violated the agreement. US prosecutors have advised senior Justice Department officials to pursue criminal charges against Boeing after determining that the planemaker breached the 2021 settlement, as previously reported by two individuals familiar with the matter to Reuters. The two parties are in discussions regarding a potential resolution to the Justice Department's investigation, and there is no assurance that officials will proceed with charges, as they stated last week.

These deliberations follow a January 5 mid-flight panel explosion on a Boeing aircraft just two days before the company's DPA expired. This incident highlighted ongoing safety and quality issues at Boeing. Boeing had been on the verge of avoiding prosecution for a criminal charge of conspiracy to defraud the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) stemming from the 2018-2019 fatal crashes. Prosecutors had agreed to drop the criminal charge provided that Boeing revamped its compliance practices and submitted regular reports over a three-year period. Boeing also agreed to pay $2.5 billion to settle the investigation.

In May, officials concluded that the company had violated the agreement, exposing Boeing to prosecution. The DOJ stated in a court filing in Texas that the planemaker had failed to 'design, implement, and enforce a compliance and ethics program to prevent and detect violations of US fraud laws throughout its operations.'