03/15/2012 05:48 pm ET

BP Letter Suggests Bribery, Corruption Within Oil Company's Shipping Division

A recent letter to chief executive officer Robert Dudley alleges that bribery and corruption have permeated BP's shipping division for several years, the Daily Telegraph reveals.

The anonymous message, written by someone claiming to be a "BP employee," asserts that a senior BP official received cash in exchange for the "chartering of tankers at preferential terms for the supplier. The letter's author also claims to possess details of the bribery payments and further evidence of corruption at BP. The author told Dudley, "We expect you to take all necessary action to protect the shareholders' interests and safeguard BP's reputation for anti-corruption and bribery."

As of Thursday, BP had only acknowledged receipt of the letter. A spokesman said, "We received a letter last week that contained serious allegations, and, as we always do with such matters, we will investigate them," reported Reuters.

In addition to BP's CEO, the letter was also sent to the UK's Serious Fraud Office (SFO). The Daily Telegraph explains that in addition to bribe givers and takers, the SFO can prosecute companies that "have not put in place 'adequate procedures' to prevent bribery."

While BP's official corporate Code of Conduct clearly addresses concerns related to bribery and corruption, the SFO could still hold BP accountable under the UK's 2011 Bribery Act if the letter's allegations are true. The act allows for unlimited fines to be levied on British companies that engage in bribery both in the UK and abroad.

The recent corruption allegations come after BP announced a $7.8 billion settlement for claims stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill that leaked millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over the course of three months.

ProPublica explains that the settlement figure, which is merely an estimate of "what it will cost to meet outstanding claims," could grow. In fact, the $7.8 billion is "significantly less" than some were expecting and "does not appear to require BP to spend any money that it had not already agreed to pay."

This analysis calls into question whether BP will prioritize the full compensation due to its numerous victims, especially after HuffPost's Sam Stein reported that BP spent $8.43 million on congressional lobbying in 2011, a figure representing less than one half of one percent of that year's profits.

BP's shipping unit is the "the world’s second-largest charterer of tankers," according to Bloomberg Businessweek and reportedly lost $143.6 million in 2010 due to "'challenging market conditions' and lower hire costs for tankers."