BP ends effort to oust administrator in charge of Gulf of Mexico oil spill settlement claims

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NEW ORLEANS — BP abruptly ended its efforts to remove the administrator of claims arising from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, saying Friday that it is satisfied with efforts to improve fraud prevention and detection in the claims program.

The oil giant had long criticized how Patrick Juneau ran the program that arose from a 2012 settlement with businesses claiming economic losses from the spill that followed the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in November flatly rejected BP's efforts to remove Juneau. Attorneys for BP, business plaintiffs and Juneau argued the matter before the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in February and a decision was pending.

However a filing Friday said all parties had agreed to a dismissal of the appeal. BP issued a statement saying that former FBI director Louis Freeh, appointed by the courts as a special master to watch for fraud in the settlement program, aided a review of the program. The review, BP said, demonstrated that improvements have been made, and continue to be made in the program.

"This marks the beginning of a new and more productive relationship between BP and the claims program," John Minge, Chairman and President of BP America, said in a news release.

In its earlier court battles, BP had accused Juneau of mismanagement and spending excessively on administration. It also said Juneau should be ousted because he failed to disclose a conflict of interest — spill-related work for the state of Louisiana before he was hired as claims administrator; and because he improperly expedited some claims over others.

Barbier had ruled that BP clearly knew of Juneau's earlier consulting work, and he found no merit in the argument that some claims were improperly expedited. BP renewed the arguments regarding Juneau's earlier work at last month's 5th Circuit hearing but made no mention of them in its Friday statement or the latest court filing.

"I am pleased with BP's decision to withdraw its attempt to remove me as the Claims Administrator," Juneau said in an email. "I have at all times operated this program ethically and with the utmost integrity. I am also pleased that BP has recognized the meaningful actions we have taken to detect and prevent fraud."

Juneau oversees a claims process arising from a settlement that was hailed by all sides when it was reached. But BP later complained about Juneau's interpretation of the settlement, saying he was paying claims to businesses that didn't deserve them. Federal courts disagreed and upheld the settlement.

"We hope this will finally put to rest BP's attacks against the Claims Administrator and its own settlement, and allow Mr. Juneau and his staff to now fully focus on getting the remaining claims paid as quickly as possible," attorneys Steve Herman and Jim Roy, leaders of a committee of plaintiffs in the case, said in a joint statement.

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