Federal Authorities Investigate Pemex Officials, Employees for Involvement in Fuel-Theft
In late July, federal law-enforcement authorities seized key documents from the headquarters of the state-run oil company PEMEX that could implicate some officials in an elaborate scheme in which millions of dollars worth of fuel were siphoned off from pipelines. The raid by law-enforcement personnel from the Procuraduria General de la Republica (PGR) and other agencies suggested that a high level of corruption still exists in the company. Fuel theft costs PEMEX close to US$2 billion per year. PEMEX inspectors detected at least 396 illegal connections to its fuel pipelines in 2008.
Energy Secretary Georgina Kessel Martinez, speaking to reporters in the aftermath of the raid, promised that anyone found guilty "would face the full consequences of the law." But Kessel held out little hope that the practice would be eradicated anytime soon, given the government's technological deficiencies. "This is a process that is going to take some time because PEMEX not only needs to install new technology but also to conduct an extensive analysis of its system of ducts and create better tools to combat fuel theft," said the energy secretary. She acknowledged that fuel thieves are using more sophisticated technology than that in use by PEMEX.
Kessel said PEMEX is planning to spend over 1 billion pesos (US$76 billion) between now and 2012 to install a new system to monitor its ducts.
There was no immediate comment from PEMEX director Jesus Reyes Heroles, but the company issued a terse statement. "At this time the internal-audit office, with the help of federal police, is seizing computer equipment and documents belonging to the company's security directorate," said a company press release.
The Mexico City daily newspaper La Jornada said the PGR is investigating at least nine Mexican customs inspectors and 20 PEMEX employees suspected of involvement in an elaborate fuel-theft scheme. The customs inspectors allegedly falsified paperwork for tanker trucks carrying the stolen diesel or natural-gas derivatives into the US. The paperwork describes the cargo as "chemicals."
Authorities are also probing 100 business owners thought to have participated in the process for at least four years by laundering funds produced from the fuel theft.
Fuel theft has been a problem for PEMEX for at least a decade. In 2004, the administration of former President Vicente Fox launched a special operation to try to eradicate the practice (see SourceMex, 2004-03-10), but had little success. According to government investigations, the fuel theft is in operation at pipelines in all or most of Mexico's 31 states and the Federal District.
Corruption still prevalent at PEMEX
Critics say that the continuation of the practice is evidence that corruption is rampant at PEMEX. Some are pointing the finger at the petroleum workers union (Sindicato de Trabajadores Petroleros de la Republica Mexicana, STPRM), which has long been suspected of participating in the fuel-theft scheme. …