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Financial Times: BP pays $373m to end criminal probes

By Jeremy Grant in New York, Stephanie Kirchgaessner in Washington and Sheila McNulty in Houston

Published: October 25 2007 20:27 | Last updated: October 25 2007 20:38

BP on Thursday night sought to draw a line under two years of damage to its troubled North American operations by agreeing to pay fines totaling $373m (£182m) to US authorities to settle violations linked to a refinery explosion, oil pipeline leaks and fraud in energy trading.

The payments are part of a wide-ranging settlement with three federal agencies requiring BP to submit to years of government-appointed monitors of trading and environmental systems.

Peter Keisler, acting US attorney-general, said monitors were needed “because we are not simply confident that without that kind of intervention we would be happy with things going forward”.

Under Tony Hayward, BP’s new chief executive, the company has been open about admitting to its past mistakes.

“These agreements are an admission that, in these instances, our operations failed to meet our own standards and the requirements of the law. For that, we apologise,” said Bob Malone, BP America chairman and president.

The deal was agreed with the US government’s Corporate Fraud Task Force, which includes the Justice Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the US futures markets watchdog.

Under the deal, BP will pay a record civil penalty of $125m to the CFTC as part of an agreement under which the government will not prosecute BP for three years. For that time BP must submit to a government-appointed monitor of compliance at its trading arm – likely to be Bart Schwartz, a New York-based lawyer specialising in corporate compliance monitoring.

But Mr Keisler said there were “ongoing criminal investigations’ against unnamed individuals related to BP’s trading activities.

BP Products North America also agreed to plead guilty to a felony violation of the Clean Air Act for conduct that resulted in an explosion that killed 15 people at a Texas refinery in 2005.

”This settlement fully validates our position that Lord Browne and his cronies at BP were directly responsible for the fatal explosion at Texas City,’’ said Brent Coon, the main civil attorney representing victims of that explosion. “We hope that BP understands that shelling out more money to settle criminal charges will not make the remaining civil cases related to Texas City simply go away.”

BP will pay a $50m criminal fine in the first prosecution under a section of an act dealing with preventing accidental releases that might result in death or serious injury. It will also pay $12m for violation of clean-water laws over pipeline leaks on the Alaskan tundra.

■ Separately, the CFTC fined Paul Kelly, a former BP trader, $400,000 as part of a settlement involving charges that he attempted to manipulate the price of unleaded petrol futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange in 2002.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

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