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Why Isn't BP Under Criminal Investigation?

BP is a convicted serial environmental criminal. Why is there no criminal investigation?

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"At the end of the day if it turned out to be a God-awful accident then you go home," West said. "But everything is lost by waiting."

Attorneys Dispatched

On Wednesday, however, BP's Chief Executive Tony Hayward  said he had not been informed that BP is the subject of a criminal investigation.

Tracy Russo, a Justice Department spokeswoman, told Truthout that she could not comment on specific questions about whether or not a criminal probe has been launched.

But in a  letter sent Tuesday to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-California), the chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Welch appears to confirm that the incident is still being treated by the government as a civil matter.

Boxer and six other senators who are members of the Environment and Public Works panel  wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder May 17 requesting that he launch a "inquiry" to determine whether BP lied to the federal government about whether it could adequately respond to oil spills in the Gulf.

The senators' letter cited a February 2009 document BP sent to federal regulators that said, "in the event of an unanticipated blowout resulting in an oil spill, it is unlikely to have an impact based on the industry wide standards for using proven equipment and technology for such responses, implementation of BP's Regional Oil Spill Response Plan which address available equipment and personnel, techniques for containment and recovery and removal of the oil spill."

But on May 10, BP released a statement that said the "techniques being attempted or evaluated to contain the flow of oil on the seabed involve significant uncertainties because they have not been tested in these conditions before."

The company has also been accused of  publicly lying about the volume of oil that began gushing out of the deep sea well, which government geologists now estimate could be five times higher than BP's own assessment.

Questions about the veracity of statements made by the likes of Hayward and others about the oil gusher has convinced Larry Schweiger, the president and chief executive of the National Wildlife Federation, that BP has engaged in a massive cover-up.

"It is now clear that BP had hoped to cover up the damage of their oil spill by withholding video evidence of the size of the gushers and preventing independent analysis. In Washington, it's been said that 'it's not the crime, it's the cover-up' - but in this case, it's both the crime and the cover-up that are an outrage."

Although Welch told Boxer that the Justice Department's "long-standing policy" is to "neither confirm nor deny the existence of a [criminal] investigation" he said the agency has "sent formal demands to [BP], Transocean [the owner of the Deepwater Horizon] and other companies to ensure the preservation of potentially relevant information."

"These letters invoke legal requirements in anticipation of litigation," Welch wrote. "Department officials have spoken with BP and Transocean counsel to ensure they are complying with these demands."

The Justice Department would not release the letters agency officials sent to BP and other companies that calls for the preservation of the documents.

In his letter to Boxer, Welch added that three weeks ago Holder "dispatched a team of attorneys from the Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD) and the Civil Division within the Department to monitor the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and assess the legal position of the United States in the aftermath of this environmental disaster."

"The team, headed by Ignacia Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for ENRD, and Tony West, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division, met with the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana and the rest of the response team in New Orleans, as well as with state officials," Welch wrote. "Subsequently, Ms. Moreno and Mr. West convened a meeting of all of the United States Attorneys in the Gulf region to assure a coordinated effort.

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