Investigators to examine emails and other documents to determine what oil firm officials knew
Former BP chief executive Tony Hayward could face manslaughter charges in the U.S. over his role in the Gulf oil spill.
The Briton may be quizzed by investigators on whether decisions he made cut corners on safety and led to the disaster.
Eleven workers were killed in an explosion at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, in the Gulf of Mexico, which precipitated an environmental disaster.
Possible charges include manslaughter, which carries up to ten years in prison.
Such a move would be unusual, as companies at fault in environmental catastrophes are usually hit with charges, not individuals. It would been seen as further evidence that the Obama administration is still going after BP.
Investigators are said to be looking at Hayward’s testimony before Congress, in which he stonewalled dozens of questions, to see if he implicated himself.
The same treatment will be given to a number of other BP executives but Mr Hayward is likely to be considered the prize ‘scalp’.
The 53-year-old became a hate figure in the U.S. following a string of gaffes after the spill on April 20 last year which sparked the worst environmental disaster America has seen. He was forced to quit after announcing that he ‘wanted his life back’.
Since the spill, BP has vowed to take full responsibility for the clean-up and has set aside £13.5billion for compensation.
The U.S. Justice Department in June last year said it opened criminal and civil investigations into the spill and in December filed civil proceedings against the company.
It has yet to announce if it will file criminal matters too.
Jane Barrett, a law professor at the University of Maryland, said that by going after individual executives, the U.S. authorities could be seeking to make an example of BP.
‘They typically don’t prosecute employees of large corporations,’ she said.
‘You’ve got to prosecute the individuals in order to maximise, and not lose, the deterrent effect.’
BP has set aside $20billion for compensation claims after coming under pressure from the Obama administration to do so.
The move was in response to flagrantly anti-British rhetoric from the White House which insisted on calling the company ‘British Petroleum’, a name it has not used since 1998.
BP was also forced to suspend dividends as its value plunged by more than half, although it has since started to recover.
In the months since the disaster, there have been conflicting reports about who was to blame.
BP’s own internal probe, which it began immediately after the disaster began, found managers misread pressure data and gave their approval for rig workers to replace drilling fluid in the well with seawater.
A commission appointed by President Barack Obama into spill also identified eleven choices made in the completion of the well which put saving time over managing risk.
Seven of those were made by BP managers on the shore, it said.
Recent reports however said that the blow-out preventer on the oil rig had malfunctioned even though it was supposedly fail-safe.
The U.S. Attorney’s office and a spokesman for BP declined to comment on the case.
Mr Hayward could pocket up to £5million in the next three years thanks to awards of ‘performance shares’.
The potential payout is likely to infuriate investors in the UK, along with motorists suffering high fuel prices.
In his last year at BP, Mr Hayward earned a basic £1.05million, along with £1.075million to compensate for ‘loss of office’.
Last night BP shares closed at 467p. They were 655.4p immediately before the explosion. This represents a decrease in the value of the company of £35billion.
By James Chapman Daily Mail, March 30, 2011