By Chris Baltimore
HOUSTON (Reuters) - BP Plc is expected to plead guilty to criminal misconduct in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster through a plea agreement it has reached with the U.S. Department of Justice that may be announced as soon as Thursday, according to two sources familiar with discussions.
The sources, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said that BP will plead guilty in exchange for a waiver of future prosecution on the charges.
BP and the Justice Department declined to comment.
BP has been locked in months-long negotiations with the U.S. government and Gulf Coast states to settle billions of dollars of civil and criminal liability claims resulting from the April 20, 2010, explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig that killed 11 workers and fouled the shorelines of four Gulf Coast states in the worst offshore spill in U.S. history.
It is unclear what form of criminal misconduct BP will plead guilty to. In an August filing, the Department of Justice said "reckless management" of the Macondo well "constituted gross negligence and willful misconduct," which it intended to prove at a pending civil trial set to begin in New Orleans in February 2013.
It is also unclear whether the deal will resolve any civil charges brought by the Justice Department, and how large a financial penalty BP might pay to resolve them.
BP has previously adamantly denied any suggestion that it was grossly negligent in the disaster, a charge that could trigger billions of dollars in penalties under the Clean Water Act.
(Reporting By Chris Baltimore, Editing by Martin Howell and Ken Wills)
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