Oil giant BP's discussions with the US over the settlement of criminal claims relating to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico could result in the "largest criminal penalty" ever imposed in US corporate history, reports said Thursday.
A statement released by BP in London said the company was in "advanced talks" with the US Department of Justice (DoJ) and the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) over "all US federal government criminal and SEC claims against BP."
The BBC said the oil company could receive a fine of between 3 and 5 billion dollars, relating to criminal charges. Federal and private civil claims are not covered by the current negotiations.
If confirmed the penalty would be the largest ever paid in US corporate history, and exceed the 1.2-billion-dollar fine paid by drugs group Pfizer for marketing fraud in 2009.
Unconfirmed reports said BP was poised to plead guilty to criminal misconduct in the disaster, in exchange for a waiver of future prosecution on the charges.
Eleven oil workers died in the explosion, which triggered the biggest environmental disaster in US history, releasing 4.9 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico over a period of 87 days.
BP stressed in a statement released in London early Thursday that no final agreements had been reached, and that resolutions would be subject to federal court approvals in the United States.
"Until final agreements are reached, there can be no certainty any such resolutions will be entered into," said the BP statement.
In its release of third quarter results last month, BP had stressed its willingness to settle claims "on reasonable terms," but added that it "continues to prepare vigorously" for a trial relating to remaining private civil claims scheduled for February 2013.
The company has undertaken large-scale asset sales to raise funds to meet the claims, enabling it to set aside a total of 38 billion dollars to cover its liabilities from the disaster.
Aside from legal claims, BP expects to make a final payment of 860 million dollars into a 20-billion-dollar Gulf of Mexico Trust Fund by the end of the year.
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