Ex-BP Engineer Asks U.S. Judge to Ease Bail Travel Curbs

A former BP Plc engineer charged with destroying evidence sought for a U.S probe of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill asked a U.S. judge to ease travel restrictions imposed on him as a condition of bail.

Kurt Mix, charged with two counts of obstruction of justice for allegedly deleting text message strings from his mobile phone after being told by BP not to delete any information, was prohibited from traveling outside Texas, Louisiana, Massachusetts and New York, without a judge’s permission.

In the first criminal case arising from the spill, the U.S. had sought to restrict Mix’s travel, saying he shouldn’t have the “ability to just roam the United States” because he posed a serious flight risk. Prosecutors cited that Mix has a wife who is a Chinese national with family in China and had indicated he intended to leave the country, go to Australia, and never return.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Daniel Knowles agreed to limit Mix’s travel within the U.S. to the four states, saying the family ties to China, possession of a passport, extensive foreign travel and access to substantial assets “made me a little concerned,” according to the court filing.

‘Did Not Explain’

“Magistrate Judge Knowles did not explain how any of the facts he found regarding defendant Mix’s international ties could possibly justify the domestic travel restrictions,” Mix’s lawyers wrote. The judge also overlooked the fact Mix had surrendered his passport to the government, the lawyers wrote.

The U.S. Justice Department, which began investigating the incident in June 2010 after a fatal explosion ripped through the well and caused the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history, said in April it was continuing to consider whether to file more criminal charges over the spill. The charges against Mix are likely to be followed by others, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said last month.

BP agreed in March to pay an estimated $7.8 billion to resolve most private plaintiffs’ claims for economic loss, property damage and spill and cleanup-related injuries. The settlement establishes two separate classes, one for economic loss and the other for physical injuries related to the spill or the cleanup.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier is set to decide in November whether to give final approval to the accord. Barbier has set a Jan. 14, 2013 trial to decide liability for the spill.

The blowout and explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig killed 11 workers and started millions of barrels of crude leaking into the Gulf. The accident prompted hundreds of lawsuits against BP; Transocean Ltd., the Vernier, Switzerland-based owner and operator of the rig; and Halliburton Co., which provided cementing services.

The case is U.S. v. Mix, 12-cr-00171, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans).

-- With assistance from Margaret Cronin Fisk in Detroit. Editors: Suresh Seshadri Subramaniam Sharma

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