Hundreds of arrests made in connection with Mexico’s fuel theft crisis

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There have been over 558 arrests made in connection with last month’s clampdown on fuel theft across the country according to the head of Mexico’s Financial Intelligence Unit, Santiago Nieto.

The wide-scale crackdown against the huachicoleros has further led to the freezing of 221 bank accounts amidst many more reports of unusual financial activities. The staggering amounts of money link to some 1,633 million pesos (US$86 million) frozen in accounts tied to Pemex and another 666 million (US$35 million) frozen in third party related accounts, reported Animal Politico.  

The news of the arrests come after nearly two months of redirecting fuel provisions across the country, in a bid to stop thieves that usually tap into the pipelines. Although it has led to queues at petrol stations across the country, the statement that was announced at the Third Permanent Commission meeting points to progress in the fight against both corruption and organised crime groups.

The investigations also follow on from reports last month that at least 13 state-run companies have also been implicated in huachicolero trade.

Whilst investigations and arrests linked to the illegal trade continue to be made, the last two months have also seen a number of victims claimed within the battle for Mexico’s petroleum. Headlines across the world reported on the tragedy which killed 115 people when a pipeline in central Mexico exploded whilst people were collecting leaking fuel, and as the death toll grows the investigation into who is responsible continues.

Away from the headlines, the arrests have also seen organised crime groups turn to more desperate measures in an attempt to ensure their business continues. Over 15 mayors have already received threats from fuel thieves, in a warning to allow the groups to continue taking the fuel, according to PRD party official, Ángel Ávila Romero. “It’s a good thing that the army is patrolling the pipelines, but it’s not enough,”  he is quoted as saying, reminding the state government that the clampdown is only possible with the help of municipal representatives and their protection is important in light of the new threats.

By the end of 2018, with Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador already having led the country for a month, reports have since highlighted the continuing dangers that come with being close to Mexico’s pipelines. According to El Sol De Mexico,  91 of the most dangerous municipalities in Mexico are close to a pipeline and murder rates have soared by 53% in those areas. Although areas that don’t have pipelines also have seen an increased murder rate of about 11%, this pales in comparison to the violence that runs along the pipelines.

To add to this, bloodshed in the huachicolero circles themselves have resulted in the assassinations of the Huachicolero leaders known as El Vikingo, La Parka and El Tornillo, who were believed to run fuel theft in Hidalgo. The connection between extreme rates of violence in areas that are close to pipelines reveals the large scale of organised crime groups who have taken to fuel theft in a bid to maintain their grip of power over specific areas.

The latest revelation of the number of arrests points to the scope of corruption which is taking place throughout the country’s largest energy businesses and furthers their connections to government officials. Despite clampdowns by Mexico’s former governments on the drug trade, oil theft has offered a new means to make substantial money at less of a risk. However new president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador had committed to stopping fuel theft as part of his campaign promises and now seems to be bringing those plans into fruition.

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