BP to pay criminal fine of $4.5bn – the largest in US history

BP today announced that it has agreed to pay $4bn (£2.5bn) to the US government and over $500m (£315m) to the Securities and Exchange Commission. The payments are a penalty for the company’s fatal oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 which caused one of the worst oil spills in world history.

As part of the agreement, BP will also plead guilty to 14 criminal charges. It will plead guilty to eleven felony counts of Misconduct or Neglect of Ships Officers relating to the loss of 11 lives, one misdemeanour count under the Clean Water Act and one felony count of obstruction of congress, amongst other counts. The criminal settlement does not cover other claims against BP, including environmental damage. It could still face further fines of billions of dollars in restoration costs to waters, coastline and marine life. The current settlement remains subject to US federal court approval.

Although BP has already reached a  $7.8bn (£4.9bn) settlement with the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee, a group of lawyers representing victims of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, one Louisiana lawyer was keen to reiterate that the deal is far from over. Stuart Smith, who represents some of the businesses affected by the oil spill, told the BBC, “they have not settled with the state of Louisiana for the natural damages… they haven’t settled with Florida, Alabama [or] Mississippi yet.”

The company has apologised for the accident. In a statement, BP’s chief executive Bob Dudley said, “All of us at BP deeply regret the tragic loss of life caused by the Deepwater Horizon accident as well as the impact of the spill on the Gulf coast region”. He also said “We apologise for our role in the accident, and as today’s resolution with the US government further reflects, we have accepted responsibility for our actions.”

However, many are unsatisfied with the company’s apology and a settlement which they see as a nothing more than a token gesture. Dean Blanchard, a shrimp distributor in Louisiana told BBC Radio 4 that the agreement was not enough. “I believe the settlement’s a joke.” he said. “BP have got to be held accountable for what they’re doing over here. We basically don’t have no business. Where I live it’s a dead zone. The shrimp still don’t have no eyes, we got shrimp with tumours, we got crabs with holes in them, fish with holes in them. It’s nothing like the BP commercial you see. BP’s doing an effective job of fooling the American public. They don’t fuel America, they fool America.”

The US Justice Department is expected to issue a statement on the settlement later today. BP said that it was not aware of any government actions to suspend or curtail its activities in the Gulf, as a result of the settlement.

Sources include: The Guardian, BBC News

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