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 Gulf Oil Spill » Criminal charges in oil spill explored

Criminal charges in oil spill explored

Criminal charges in oil spill explored

•Manslaughter, perjury possibilities, sources say

WASHINGTON — Manslaughter and perjury are among possible charges that Justice Department investigators are exploring in the early stages of their probe into the Gulf oil spill, people familiar with the inquiry said Tuesday.

These people said the Justice Department is not ruling out the possibility of bringing manslaughter charges against companies or managers responsible for the explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that killed 11 workers.

The department also is examining congressional testimony by company executives, including former BP CEO Tony Hayward, to determine whether their statements were untruthful, these people added.

They cautioned that the investigation is still far from complete and spoke on condition of anonymity about the ongoing investigation.

Justice Department spokeswoman Laura Sweeney declined to comment.

Earlier this month, the Justice Department reorganized its oil spill investigation. It created a unified task force so investigators from Justice’s criminal and environmental divisions and from the U.S. attorney’s office in New Orleans can coordinate overlapping work of looking into civil violations and criminal culpability, if any.

Deputy Attorney General James Cole ordered the move to avoid duplication of effort. Criminal division senior counsel John Buretta is leading the task force, and criminal division chief Lanny Breuer is supervising it.

The drilling rig explosion occurred on April 20, 2010. A month and a half later, Attorney General Eric Holder announced criminal and civil investigations of the disaster.

"We will closely examine the actions of those involved in the spill. If we find evidence of illegal behavior, we will be extremely forceful in our response," Holder said.

Bringing a manslaughter charge against a corporation is unusual but not unprecedented.

Two weeks after Holder announced the probe, Cole told Congress that prosecuting individual executives is the best deterrent when there is corporate misconduct.

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