BP believes 10 per cent of oil spill claims are fraudulent

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The Independent US

BP is examining "several hundred" compensation claims in the Gulf of Mexico for fraud as authorities in Louisiana reveal that the numbers of commercial fishing licences sold since April has jumped by 60 per cent compared with last year.

The licences are a key document in the claims process, and three people have been arrested on charges of falsifying paperwork in order to access money that BP is offering to those who have lost income because of the oil spill. In particular, fishermen are making claims because they were hardly able to work after the Deepwater Horizon explosion on 20 April.

The jump in requests for licences in a period when fishing areas were severely restricted is highlighted in a BBC World Service report broadcast today. Allen Carpenter, a regional manager for BP in Louisiana, who helped to root out fraud in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, warned that those who receive money fraudulently may yet face detection. "Probably about 10 per cent of the claims filed after any major event can be looked at as fraudulent or potentially fraudulent," he said.

But worries about fiddling and falsification are not confined to the state government. Fishermen who genuinely need assistance to survive the effects of the spill are stepping forward to complain about those trying to defraud the compensation system, even offering anecdotes to back up reports that it is happening.

"There was an approach by two individuals asking me to sign that they had worked for me, that they had been deckhands for me," Pete Vujnovich, a fishing captain, told the BBC. "I had never seen these two individuals before in my life."

One man, identified as Jesse Lambas, 58, has been charged with wrongfully receiving cheques worth $3,000 (£1,900) from BP. He was arrested last week and moved to a jail near Baton Rouge. He faces multiple charges, including filing false public records and theft by fraud.

His arrest came after BP discovered the accused did not have a commercial fishing licence in 2009. The company alerted the state authorities and asked them to investigate. Mr Lambas faces possible prison time, large fines and even hard labour if convicted.

"We want to ensure our commercial fishermen and dealers are compensated fairly by using accurate trip ticket information," said Colonel Winton Vidrine, of Louisiana's department of wildlife and fisheries. "We do not want to see [them] tempted to commit felony violations by falsifying trip ticket documents."

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