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US judge finally lets BP 'close the book' on Gulf oil spill: $4 billion in penalties

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By Noel Young, Correspondent

January 29, 2013 | 3 min read

With TV ads running - paid for by BP - extolling the virtues of taking a holiday in America's Gulf states, a federal judge today agreed to let London-based BP plead guilty to manslaughter charges for the deaths of 11 rig workers in the Deepwater Horizon disaster .

The unfolding disaster

The decision which means BP will pay a record $4 billion in penalties finally "closes the book" on the US Justice Department's criminal probe of the company's role in the horrendous Gulf oil spill , said Huffpo.

What the plea deal doesn't resolve, said the website, is the federal government's civil claims against BP. The company could pay billions more for environmental damage from its 2010 spill.

U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance noted BP had already racked up more than $24 billion in spill-related expenses and estimates it will pay a total of $42 billion to fully resolve its liability for the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

The judge said the $4 billion criminal settlement was "just punishment" for BP. Accepting the deal, Vance cited the risk that a trial could result in a much lower fine for BP, one potentially capped by law at $8.2 million.

BP must nearly $1.3 billion in criminal fines. The largest previous corporate criminal penalty from the Justice Department was a $1.2 billion fine against drug maker Pfizer in 2009.

The $4 billion in total penalties are 160 times greater than the $25 million fine that Exxon paid for the 1989 Valdez spill in Alaska, said the judge.

Before she ruled, the judge heard an apology from a BP executive and emotional testimony from relatives of the 11 workers who died .

"I've heard and I truly understand your feelings and the losses you suffered," Vance told the family members.

BP agreed in November to plead guilty to charges involving the workers' deaths and for lying to Congress about the size of the spill from its broken well, which gushed more than 200 million gallons of oil. Much of it ended up in the Gulf and soiled the shorelines of several states.

The company could have withdrawn from the agreement if Vance had rejected it

BP America vice president Luke Keller apologised to the relatives of the workers who died and for the spill's environmental damage to the Gulf Coast.

"BP knows there is nothing we can say to diminish their loss," he said. "The lives lost and those forever changed will stay with us. We are truly sorry."

Most of the families of rig workers killed or injured in the explosion have settled their claims against BP, through a process separate from the plea deal.

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