U.S. officials say a former BP executive was paid $107,000 a month to do consulting for a company lawyer, but allege the money may have been designed to influence her testimony during a deposition in litigation over the Gulf oil spill.
The allegations were made in a court filing Tuesday by government lawyers who want to challenge her credibility at trial with the compensation details. The filing says she was "responsible in great part for actively preventing" implementation of essential safety programs on such rigs as the Deepwater Horizon that exploded, killing 11 workers and prompting the spill.
Her name was redacted from the document, and a related exhibit was filed under seal.
The government says before she was deposed, she was hired as a consultant to a BP attorney, but she did little to earn her fee.
BP spokeswoman Ellen Moskowitz said in an email to The Associated Press that the London-based company had no comment. It previously argued the disaster resulted from a cascade of failures by multiple companies, not the actions of one or two officials who worked for BP.
The Deepwater Horizon was owned by Transocean and was being leased by BP while the oil giant prepared to abandon a well it had drilled a mile beneath the Gulf of Mexico. The rig exploded off Louisiana on April 20, 2010, leading to the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.
Hundreds of lawsuits have been filed over the spill, and a civil trial designed to assign shares of fault to the companies involved in the disaster is scheduled for Feb. 27 in federal court in New Orleans. The trial also is meant to determine whether rig owner Transocean can limit what it pays those making claims under maritime law.
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange said Tuesday that a possible settlement could be reached before the start of the trial.
For right now, however, lawyers are preparing as if the trial will go forward and are filing motions related to evidence, witnesses and testimony.
The U.S. government, which has accused BP previously of being evasive, has a big stake in the outcome of the litigation.
In their filing Tuesday, Justice Department lawyers say they should be able to use compensation details to show bias on the part of the former BP executive and other witnesses who may testify. They want a judge to allow such details to be weighed on a case by case basis, rather than be excluded across the board as BP has requested.
"There are instances where employee compensation is relevant to bias, credibility, or other issues, such as active efforts by BP — or certainly the appearance of such efforts — to hide evidence under the guise of faux privilege," the lawyers wrote.
A Justice spokesman declined to comment on the filing beyond what was included in it.