According to Mexico's Attorney General's Office, authorities are tackling oil thieves, more than doubling the number of arrests made last year, a sign that Mexico wants to choke an illicit business thought to generate more than $1 billion a year in earnings for organized crime.
Excelsior reported that authorities made 1,415 arrests for oil theft during the first nine months of 2014, a 57 percent increase from the total number of arrests made the previous year.
Additionally, the number of arrests made so far in 2014 represents about a third of all arrests for oil theft in the past nine years. Half of these arrests are concentrated in six states: Jalisco, Guanajuato, Tamaulipas, Veracruz, Sinaloa, and Nuevo Leon.
Those arrested were charged with stealing oil from Mexico's state-owned oil company, Pemex. Earlier this year the company said that it has lost an estimated $1 billion to oil theft in 2014 alone. The Attorney General's Office has registered nearly 9,000 incidents of illegal taps in Pemex pipelines since 2006, according to Excelsior.
InSight Crime Analysis
Oil theft has long been a significant problem in Mexico. Not only do criminal groups like the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel siphon oil from Pemex pipelines, there have also been reports of them stealing tankers and running networks of gas stations that sell their stolen fuel.
SEE ALSO: Mexico News and Profile
Earlier in 2014, Mexico implemented a landmark series of oil reforms meant to open up the country's oil industry. With the possibility of more private oil firms working in Mexico on the horizon, this means the government is under increased pressure to assure investors that the country is a safe place to do business. This could be one reason why the number of arrests for oil theft has increased so significantly in 2014 compared to the previous year.
As Mexico continues to move against oil theft, the country would do well to scrutinize what type of internal corruption within Pemex could be facilitating the crime. An increased number of arrests may not actually be making Mexico's oil industry safer from organized crime if authorities are merely capturing low-level operatives rather than focusing on truly breaking up these sophisticated oil theft networks. As indicated in a 2011 lawsuit that Pemex filed in Texas, U.S. companies have also been involved in buying and processing Pemex oil stolen by criminal gangs.