Oil giant BP has reported record profits of $22 billion, although its fourth-quarter profits decreased. Hit by lower production, the group’s profits for the final three months of the year fell by 12% to $3.9bn, against $4.4bn a year ago, and almost $7bn in the third quarter.

Shares in BP have fallen 7p in early trading this morning as the company also disappointed analysts by lowering its production targets for the current year. It now expects to produce 3.8 – 3.9m barrels of oil a day in 2007, down from 3.93m in 2006.

BP chief executive Lord Browne said today the fourth-quarter results reflected the “recent declines in the overall price and margin environment, as well as operational factors and increased safety and integrity investments”.

If Browne thought BP’s safety problems were over, today’s Financial Times reports that the federal criminal investigators are now probing new charges about BP’s troubled Alaskan operations. It is alleged that BP substituted water for corrosion-inhibiting chemicals as far back as 1998 and issued staff with written instructions against replacing deficient systems, components and pipes to save money.

If these new allegations are proved true, they would be damaging to the company: grand juries in Alaska and Texas are reviewing evidence by the federal investigators to decide whether to bring criminal charges against BP and its senior executives.

So Sir John may be retiring early, but he may not be pruning his roses just yet….