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Gulf oil spill: BP's record $4 billion criminal plea deal gets judge's OK

Under the plea agreement between BP and the US, the oil giant admits to 11 counts of felony manslaughter for the alleged negligence of its officials in 2010 Gulf oil spill.

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“I think BP should have done that out of basic humanity,” the AP quoted the judge as saying.

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Federal prosecutors and lawyers for BP submitted a 59-page memorandum to Judge Vance urging her to accept the deal.

The company agreed to plead guilty to the 14 federal charges in November. But the agreement was contingent on the judge accepting the agreement and the proposed punishment.

“The proposed Plea Agreement is a fair, just, reasonable, and appropriately punitive resolution of BP’s criminal liability,” they wrote.

Lawyers said that under one scenario, had the case gone to trial, criminal fines against BP could have been capped at $8.19 million under a federal law.

The $4 billion payment dwarfs the government’s next largest criminal fine of $1.3 billion assessed against the pharmaceutical company Pfizer in 2009.  

In pleading guilty, the company acknowledged that BP managers on the oil rig were negligent in failing to properly oversee safety tests to determine oil well pressure. “That negligence was a proximate cause of the deaths of the men,” the joint memo says in part.

Two BP supervisors are facing trial on manslaughter charges for their actions on the offshore oil rig prior to the disaster.

Earlier this month, Transocean Deepwater, Inc., which ran the drilling rig, agreed to plead guilty to violating the Clean Water Act. The company agreed to pay $1.4 billion in criminal and civil fines. 

The BP plea agreement calls for the company to pay nearly $2.4 billion to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to fund environmental restoration projects.

The foundation is required under the agreement to spend roughly half of the $2.4 billion in Louisiana to create and restore barrier islands and coastal habitats hard hit by the spill. The other half of the $2.4 billion must be spent equally in Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, and Texas on coastal restoration and protection projects.

“Today’s guilty plea and sentencing represent a significant step forward in the Justice Department’s ongoing efforts to seek justice on behalf of those affected by one of the worst environmental disasters in American history,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.

“I’m pleased to note that more than half of this landmark resolution – which totals $4 billion in penalties and fines and represents the single largest criminal resolution ever – will help to provide direct support to Gulf Coast residents as communities throughout the region continue to recover and rebuild.”

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