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Colombia's Elite in League with Armed Groups in Massive Oil Theft
New details in a graft scheme that netted $80 million dollars— and shocking statistics on long-term theft of oil by armed groups
This week’s feature is by Adriaan Alsema, editor-in-chief of Colombia Reports
Colombia’s authorities seized the assets of 17 businessmen who allegedly stole and exported $80 million worth of oil belonging to state-controlled oil company Ecopetrol.
President Gustavo Petro said on Twitter that police and prosecutors “should investigate if the theft counted on support from inside Ecopetrol.”
This DIJIN investigation shows one of the largest thefts from the Colombian state. About 80 million dollars in oil were stolen and the criminals were “elite people” from the country’s wealthiest sectors. It must be investigated if the robbery had support from within Ecopetrol.
-President Gustavo Petro
According to police intelligence and investigative agency DIJIN, the elite organized crime networks exported approximately one million barrels of contraband oil per month.
Among the companies that are investigated are the Colombian daughter company of multinational energy company Gunvor and its associates, Niman Commerce, and Australian Bunkers Suppliers.
Authorities reported no arrests.
In response, Ecopetrol released a statement saying that these acts were reported by Ecopetrol to authorities before Petro’s announcement as part of an ongoing investigation.
They reported that in addition to the graft scheme currently grabbing headlines, over $130 million worth of crude was stolen by armed groups more broadly in 2021 alone.
How the racket allegedly worked
According to local media, the organized crime networks tapped oil from the Caño-Limon oil pipeline in eastern Colombia.
Oil transport companies subsequently moved the contraband oil to storage facilities where at least some of it was mixed with oil imported legally from Venezuela and then sold on legal markets.
Some of the contraband oil was exported without being reported to international trade regulators.
The operation used oil processing and export facilities in central Colombia, in the Pacific port city of Buenaventura and ports on the Caribbean coast.
Among the assets that were seized were three Panamanian oil tankers that allegedly exported the contraband oil to Europe and Asia.
According to the director of DIJIN, General Jose Luis Ramirez, officials seized more than 150 assets that belonged to four different organized crime networks.
26 real estate properties
22 commercial establishments
7 ships and boats
21 oil trucks
The total value of the seized assets is $327 million (COP1.3 trillion), according to Ramirez.
Case just a small part of oil theft nationally
Theft from the state-owned oil company has long been rampant, and armed groups are often involved in the criminal endeavors. This week Ecopetrol released data on the number of attacks against oil infrastructure, including robberies, which they estimate cost them $130 million in 2021 alone.
Nearly 10,000 illegal valves have also been placed on Ecopetrol pipelines in the last ten years, which armed groups use to siphon crude as well as gasoline that they then re-sell on the black market.
Felipe Bayón, former president of Ecopetrol, in a press conference in Bogota, said that "the issue of oil theft from pipelines has been going on for decades"
"In this same period, Ecopetrol has been the victim of 1,607 terrorist attacks against its transportation infrastructure by armed groups, particularly ElN," he added.
According to him, for several years there have been attacks with environmental, social, and economic damage and the theft of crude oil with illicit valves mainly used for cocaine production.
Colombia’s prosecutor’s office has stated that they possess evidence that implicates employees within Ecopetrol as well as national police members in the theft, across hundreds of individual cases.
The Big Headlines in LATAM
A series of prison riots in Ecuador left 31 prisoners dead. Multiple jails experienced chaos and over 100 guards taken hostage. More than a dozen are still thought to be held against their will.
The riots started in Guayaquil but quickly spread to other prisons. President Lasso has declared a state of emergency in prisons nationwide and deployed the military to quell the uprisings.
In Colombia, the son of President Gustavo Petro was arrested as part of a money laundering investigation. The Attorney General’s office has accused him of attempting to sell influence with his father to criminal groups to be included in ongoing negotiations as part of Petro’s “Total Peace” plans.
Petro is not named in the warrant or accused of being part of the alleged scheme.
What we’re writing
As the ceasefire with ELN approaches, Joshua found himself reminiscing on all the stories he has been told over 7 years of covering the peace process in Colombia.
Starting wars is easy. Ending them is hard — and always imperfect.
Spanish Word of the Week
Huevón (sometimes spelled güevón)- literally “eggman” or “egghead”
In Colombia, the best translation for huevón is perhaps “idiot” or “a really dumb person”. But in other parts of Latin America it can also mean “a lazy person”.
Strangely (or maybe not so strangely considering how many Colombian insults are also used as endearments) it can also be loosely translated as “homie”, depending on context.
For example, if your friend is telling you a particularly wild story, you might interject: "Nooooo Huevón!?! En serio? Y que hiciste despues de eso?" - “Noooo way homie! Really!? And what did you do after that?”
Not at all related to “egghead” as is commonly used in English.
Luckily, no one on the PWS crew is either type of egghead. We’re out in the field too much for that, which is of course the goal of Pirate Wire Services.