The U.S. Justice Department is trying to determine whether BP’s gross underestimates of how much oil was spewing into the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon explosion is tied to more than a mere effort to evade the maximum pollution fines.

The Times-Picayune reports that federal investigators have been speaking with several BP officials at their homes recently to question whether execs used non-public info to engage in illegal insider trading in an attempt to manipulate BP’s sharply declining stock following the spill.

BP repeatedly offered lower spill levels than government scientists were reporting during what turned out to be the largest oil spill in American history, which more than angered Gulf Coast residents and federal officials trying to cope with the disaster:
The amount of oil had an immediate impact on efforts to contain the spill and still factors heavily into how much BP and other responsible parties can be fined for polluting the Gulf.

But the difference between what BP officials knew about flow rate and what they were telling others has sparked the interest of Justice Department Criminal Division investigators, according to the sources. Giving false statements to a federal agency is a five-year felony.

There are no public records indicating that BP executives took advantage of inside information to beat the stock market, where BP shares lost more than half their value in the six weeks after the April 28 disclosure that BP’s initial estimate of a 1,000-barrel-a-day spill was wrong. But major BP investors allege in a civil case in Houston that the company low-balled the spill’s effects to artificially buttress the stock price.
Read more on the latest federal investigation here.

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