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BP to pay record $4.5 billion fine


 U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder speaks about the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill settlement and criminal penalties.
Matthew Hinton/ASSOCIATED PRESS
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Date published: 11/16/2012

BY MICHAEL KUNZELMAN

Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS

--A day of reckoning arrived for BP on Thursday as the oil giant agreed to plead guilty to a raft of criminal charges and pay a record $4.5 billion in a settlement with the government over the deadly 2010 disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Three BP employees were also charged, two of them with manslaughter.

The settlement and the indictments came 2years after the drilling-rig explosion that killed 11 workers and set off the biggest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

The settlement includes nearly $1.3 billion in fines--the biggest criminal penalty in U.S. history--along with payments to entities inside and outside government. As part of the deal, the BP will plead guilty to charges related to the deaths of the 11 workers and to lying to Congress.

"We believe this resolution is in the best interest of BP and its shareholders," said Carl-Henric Svanberg, BP chairman. "It removes two significant legal risks and allows us to vigorously defend the company against the remaining civil claims."

Also, BP well site leaders Robert Kaluza and Donald Vidrine were indicted on manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter charges, accused of disregarding abnormal high-pressure readings that should have glaring indications of trouble just before the deadly blowout.

In addition, David Rainey, who was BP's vice president of exploration for the Gulf of Mexico at the time, was indicted on charges of obstruction of Congress and making false statements. Prosecutors said he withheld information from Congress that indicated the amount of oil spewing from BP's blown-out well was greater than he let on.

Rainey's lawyer said his client did "absolutely nothing wrong." And attorneys for the two rig workers accused the Justice Department of making scapegoats out of them.

"Bob was not an executive or high-level BP official. He was a dedicated rig worker who mourns his fallen co-workers every day," Kaluza attorneys Shaun Clarke and David Gerger said in a statement. "No one should take any satisfaction in this indictment of an innocent man. This is not justice."

The settlement, which is subject to approval by a federal judge, includes payments of nearly $2.4 billion to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, $350 million to the National Academy of Sciences and about $500 million to the Securities and Exchange Commission. The SEC accused BP of misleading investors by lowballing the amount of crude spewing from the well.

"This marks the largest single criminal fine and the largest total criminal resolution in the history of the United States," Attorney General Eric Holder said at a news conference in New Orleans. He said much of the money will be used to restore the Gulf.

Holder said the criminal investigation is still going on.

The settlement does not cover the billions in civil penalties the U.S. government is seeking from BP under the Clean Water Act and other environmental laws. Nor does it cover billions of dollars in claims brought by states, businesses and individuals, including fishermen, restaurants and property owners.