NY comptroller moves for lead plaintiff status in investors’ lawsuits against BP in oil spill

By Michael Virtanen, AP
Wednesday, June 23, 2010

NY comptroller wants lead status in BP lawsuit

ALBANY, N.Y. — New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has hired outside lawyers in an effort to become the lead plaintiff in a federal class-action lawsuit by investors against BP over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

DiNapoli, as trustee of the state’s $133 billion public employee pension fund, claims the British oil giant misled investors about the safety of its operations.

“It’s my duty to protect the interests of the fund and the retirees and employees who rely on it,” DiNapoli said Wednesday. “BP misled investors about its safety procedures and its ability to respond to events like the ongoing oil spill and we’re going to hold it accountable.”

Company spokesman John Curry said Wednesday that BP doesn’t comment on lawsuits.

Four pending federal investor lawsuits are expected to be consolidated, said Robert Whalen, a DiNapoli spokesman. The fund has experience in similar suits, including a recent settlement with Countrywide Financial.

The comptroller’s office announced last month that Countrywide would pay $600 million and the accounting firm KPMG $24 million, subject to final approval expected in September in federal court in California. That suit alleged the mortgage lender misstated and omitted material facts about underwriting loans that were riskier than disclosed.

Whalen said Wednesday the pension fund for New York state and local government workers had about 19 million BP shares at the time of the April 20 drilling platform explosion and has about 15 million now. Company shares have lost about half their value since the spill and the stock trades near 14-year lows in the U.S.

BP suspended dividends this year, but officials said they are committed to delivering long-term value to shareholders and may resume dividends next year.

BP has agreed to establish a $20 billion claims fund that will be available to satisfy legitimate claims, including environmental damage and the cost of state and local responses to the cleanup.

At an analyst briefing last week, Byron Groat, BP Group chief financial officer, said fines and penalties will be paid separately.

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