LONDON - Shares in oil major BP (BP.L) fell 2.0 percent on Tuesday after a media report that the company's managers may face manslaughter charges following the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and an analyst downgrade.
U.S. prosecutors are considering whether to pursue manslaughter charges against BP managers for decisions made before the explosion on the rig that killed 11 workers and caused the biggest offshore spill in U.S. history, a report from Bloomberg said, citing people familiar with the matter.
BP has admitted mistakes in the run-up to the rig blast but has denied accusations that it was "grossly negligent", a charge that could add tens of billions to the final bill it pays for the disaster.
"A manslaughter charge makes a charge of gross negligence more likely," one dealer said.
If BP is found to be grossly negligent, the maximum possible fines it faces would rise to over $21 billion from around $5 billion.
Also, this may mean the company is unable to force its partners in the well to pay their 35 percent share of the total clean-up bill -- now estimated at $42 billion.
It could also open the floodgates to legal claims worth many billions.
BP declined to comment.
Another dealer said a downgrade from Collins Stewart also weighed on the shares. The brokerage cut BP to "sell" from "hold", partly due to the spat between the company and its oligarch partners in its Russian joint venture TNK-BP (TNBP.MM), traders said.
BP shares traded down 2.0 percent at 0950 GMT (5:50 a.m. ET), against a 0.8 percent drop in the STOXX Europe 600 Oil and Gas index .SXEP.
(Reporting by Tom Bergin; Editing by Erica Billingham and David Holmes)