By Mariana Martinez
The theft of gas and other oil products is a relatively new crime that in just a few years has become a serious threat to Mexico’s financial stability.
The crime involves both drug cartels and corrupt government officials in Mexico and an undetermined number of oil refineries and companies in the US who have been willing to buy such stolen fuel.
Fuel trafficking has grown exponentially and has been linked to Mexican drug cartels whose infrastructure and criminal webs of corruption in governmental offices has streamlined the flow of this stolen goods across the border.
Just Tuesday, the US government awarded 2.4 million dollars to Mexico as part of a settlement in a case where a small refinery in Houston was found guilty of having imported stolen fuel from across the border.
This crime is where drug cartels are now diversifying their activities into fuel theft especially grave for Mexico, because, as president Felipe Calderón admitted recently oil administered by government owned company Pemex is the source of 40% of the federal income in Mexico.
According to Mexican authorities the majority of thefts can be attributed to the now famous group of gunmen “Zetas” the most violent arm of the Golf Cartel, apparently in charge of the transport and distribution of the stolen fuel inside Mexico but also into the United States and Central and South America.
The names of American companies currently under investigation for the purchase of stolen fuel has not been revealed by Federal US authorities but it is well known that “big names” are responsible in making stolen products available to US consumer gas tanks.
Both the US and Mexican governments are working together and earlier in 2009 Mexican authorities froze 149 bank accounts with millions of dollars, believed to be a result of the illicit sell of gas, diesel and crude oil products by “Zetas.”
An on July 30th, retired army general Miguel Estrada Martínez, head of Pemex Segurity was arrested by Federal Police accused of aiding in the fuel robbery operation.
Along with Estrada, many of his aides and workers were also questioned, computers and cell phones were seized in the hopes of finding sufficient evidence to prosecute them as having clear links between public officials and this organized crime groups.
But despite arrests the loss in fuel theft has reached new heights.
The stolen fuel market has been on the steady rise since 2007 as Pemex security officials find more illegal takes every year.
According to Pemex numbers,190 illegal takes where found in the first semester of 2009, where at least 2 million and 88 thousand fuel barrels where taken, marking an astonishing 10% increase in comparison to the same period just last year.
Pemex data analysis suggests 44.2% of the takes where found in Veracruz, 28 % in Mexico State but many others where found in Hidalgo, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Oaxaca, Sinaloa, Jalisco, Tlaxcala, Durango, Querétaro, Guanajuato, Michoacán, Puebla and Baja California.
In Baja California, The Rosarito Pemex has not been immune to such crime, where the latest clandestine take was found on August first.
The 10 inch wide take was found by Pemex workers around kilometer 61 of the oil duct going from Rosarito to Ensenada going thought the Guadalupe Valley.
They got suspicious when they found an oil stain on the ground and later heard the sound of a leak from a nearby field. They quickly shot down the area but have not established the origen and damage made in the installations.
This was the sixth vandalism act found in Baja California Pemex in 2009, while there were only 8 vandalism acts of theft reported in the same area in 2008.