The theft of petroleum from Pemex pipelines by thieves known as huachicoleros costs Mexico billions of pesos annually but now for the first time there is documented evidence that the crime is also taking place within the state oil company.
The Secretariat of Public Administration (SFP) is investigating a group of at least 40 Pemex workers in Chihuahua for stealing fuel by overfilling tanker trucks at the state capital’s storage terminal. The excess was subsequently offloaded to third parties before the trucks reached the gas stations they were supplying.
Managers and engineers at the storage terminal as well as Pemex tanker drivers have all been implicated in the alleged crime.
Staff from the SFP unit responsible for investigating the offense told the newspaper Milenio that federal employees who allegedly participated in the practice were identified after Pemex’s legal division filed a complaint in August 2016.
It is the first time that fuel theft from inside Pemex facilities has been documented, they said, and investigations at all of the company’s 76 storage terminals are under way to determine whether networks of thieves are operating at other facilities.
Investigators allege that the thefts occurred by modifying instruments that are used to measure the amount of fuel a tanker can carry.
“There was an interference in Pemex’s own computer system that changes the mathematical equation for the calculation of the [amount] of fuel the tanker supplies,” SFP officials explained.
Evidence that sensor alarms inside tankers had been tampered with to allow them to carry more fuel was also detected.
“This is a technical job; highly technical knowledge is required to be able to modify the systems unlike the huachicolero who needs the physical knowledge of where a duct crosses and how it can be drilled,” one official said.
It is thought that the practice first started at the Chihuahua facility in 2015 and has continued over the past two years.
The full extent of the theft is unknown but it is estimated that every overfilled fuel tanker could represent the loss of between 500 and 800 liters of petroleum and so far, 10 modified trucks have been detected.
Twenty-five of the 40 workers who were identified as participating in the scheme were suspended indefinitely while the investigation takes place. Proceedings have begun against eight of the employees for administrative responsibility for the crime.
At a business forum in Guanajuato last week, Energy Secretary Pedro Joaquín Coldwell admitted that there might be complicity between Pemex employees and huachicoleros.
He also indicated that collusion between municipal authorities and the pipeline thieves couldn’t be ruled out but said that that measures to prevent pipeline theft have been strengthened and he expected to see a reduction in the crime over the coming months.
Guanajuato, Puebla, Veracruz and Tamaulipas are among the states with the highest prevalence of pipeline theft although Coldwell said that many other parts of the country are also affected.
Source: Milenio (sp)