(InSight Crime, Parker Asmann, 10.Oct.2018) — The ways in which gangs of fuel thieves in Costa Rica are tapping oil pipelines in order to steal and later resell the good are growing increasingly sophisticated, providing further evidence of the growing strength of criminal groups in the Central American nation.
What were previously rustic oil taps are now becoming more sophisticated as groups of fuel thieves in Costa Rica are paying experts as much as 3 million colons (around $5,000) to perform professionally made illegal oil taps on pipelines, CRHoy reported.
Since 2015, the Costa Rican Petroleum Refinery (Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo – RECOPE) — the country’s state-owned oil company — has seen an increase in the number of illegal oil taps, causing millions of dollars in losses, according to Costa Rica’s Judicial Investigation Agency (Organismo de Investigación Judicial – OIJ) and intelligence agency (Dirección de Inteligencia y Seguridad – DIS).
In May of this year, authorities arrested six suspected members of an oil theft network operating in the city of Heredia just north of the capital San José that allegedly stole at least $2 million from the state oil refinery, La Nación reported.
Just weeks later, authorities arrested 14 other suspected members of a different oil theft network operating in the city of Limón on the country’s Caribbean coast that allegedly stole more than $2.1 million in oil, EFE reported. Authorities also seized an AK-47 rifle, ammunition, trucks with specific storage tanks for oil, as well as bulletproof vests, among other things.
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The increased effort crime groups in Costa Rica are reportedly putting into their oil theft operations suggests that they are growing stronger and diversifying their criminal portfolios as a result.
A rise in coca production in Colombia since 2013 and the revitalization of Central America as one of the main corridors for cocaine being trafficked to US markets has transformed Costa Rica’s role as a key transshipment point in the drug trade. This has, in turn, provided increased revenues for local crime groups, which have diversified their portfolios and expanded into other illegal activities like oil theft and illegal gold mining.
Oil theft is big business in Latin America, and the industry is largely considered to be a relatively low-risk, high-reward revenue stream for crime groups. In Mexico, for example, it is a billion dollar industry that may prove more profitable than the drug trade, according to a recent report from Rolling Stone.
As crime groups grow stronger, it makes sense that they would venture into other, more profitable criminal activities like oil theft. However, it remains to be seen if Costa Rica will face the same deadly consequences that the lucrative industry has created in Mexico. Authorities in Costa Rica are already confronting rising violence due to increased fighting between criminal groups for control of local drug markets.