(AP, 30.Dec.2018) — The theft of US$3 billion in fuel every year from Mexico’s state-run fuel depots and pipelines is an inside job, the country’s new president said Thursday.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said thieves didn’t just drill taps into government pipelines. He said company employees stole fuel and distributed it, or helped thieves by ensuring fuel continued to run through pipelines.
The country’s top prosecutor said criminal investigations have been opened against three employees of the state-owned oil company Pemex for their alleged involvement in the scam.
While thieves drill an average of about 42 illegal taps per day, Lopez Obrador said that represents only about 20 per cent of losses. The rest was presumably stolen from distribution centres aboard tanker trucks.
“There is a hypothesis that of all the (fuel) thefts, only about 20 per cent is done by illegal pipeline taps,” Lopez Obrador said. “It’s a kind of smokescreen, and the majority is done through a scheme that involves the complicity of authorities and a distribution network.”
Lopez Obrador suggested much of the stolen fuel left distribution centres aboard about 600 tanker trucks every day carrying fuel worth about US$10 million per day.
Authorities have long suspected Pemex employees of complicity in the thefts, since drilling illegal taps and extracting fuel without causing an explosion requires inside knowledge.
But an even bigger mystery has been how that much stolen fuel gets sold; simply selling it on roadsides to passing truckers could never account for the vast amount of stolen gasolene and diesel.
A few dozen gasolene stations have been implicated in selling stolen fuel, but that also wouldn't account for enough sales volume.
“If we’re talking about 600 tanker trucks per day, we’re not just talking about “huachicol” pipeline thefts,” Lopez Obrador said. “We are talking about a scheme that has involvement inside the governments and has a fuel distribution system, because it is not easy to distribute and sell 600 tanker trucks per day.”
Officials say that by targeting corrupt employees and monitoring fuel shipments they have already managed to reduce the thefts since Lopez Obrador took office on December 1.
Military personnel are participating in a new plan to monitor distribution depots.
Still, the problem remains strikingly widespread; authorities found 12,581 illegal pipeline taps in first 10 months of year, equivalent to about 42 per day. Fuel theft gangs also have brought extreme violence to previously peaceful states in central Mexico, and the gangs frequently recruit entire neighbourhoods to block police raids and acts as lookouts.