New Lawsuit Against BP Raises Specter of Criminal Charges


Anyone wondering if the government will ever bring actual criminal charges against BP is no doubt taking note of a new civil lawsuit claiming the oil giant broke federal civil racketeering laws both before and after its oil spill, and “to this day.”

The civil action – which offers a rough blueprint of charges a prosecutor might consider – is being reported by Bloomberg News and other outlets as claiming that “…BP’s fraudulent actions and omissions were part of a broader pattern of unlawful conduct that it has employed over the years to place profits over safety.” The suit was filed by liaison counsel for the court-appointed committee representing plaintiffs.

In effect, the lawsuit asserts that BP knew exactly what it was doing and committed fraud by lying about it. The lawyers claim that the Deepwater Horizon disaster and the resulting oil spill were “…foreshadowed by a string of disastrous incidents and near misses in BP’s operations on land and at sea [and that BP has] since at least 2001, used this enterprise to conduct the related acts of mail and wire fraud comprising the pattern of racketeering.”

This lawsuit, at minimum, increases the rhetoric aimed at BP’s post-spill recovery effort. These are the sort of assertions that one would expect from a rigorous prosecution, but the only governmental equivalent to this has come from Alabama at the state level and communities like Orange Beach at the municipal level.

This kind of lawsuit raises the fraud question as have shareholder lawsuits and other claims. Eventually, these civil actions put law enforcement on notice that, sooner or later, people are going to start asking why these facts have not motivated more assertive actions in the criminal arena.

Read the Bloomberg report here:

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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