Pemex workers inspect an illegal pipeline tap

As Mexico is rocked by protests against a hike in fuel prices, authorities have highlighted the collusion and corruption facilitating the fuel theft that costs the Mexican state oil company hundreds of millions of dollars every year.

The technical knowledge required to carry out oil thefts by tapping pipelines suggests the collusion of insiders at Petróleos Mexicanos, better known as Pemex, according to General Benjamin Grajeda Regalado, the head of the Gendarmerie division of Mexico's Federal Police.

"The people that do these clandestine siphons certainly must have knowledge of how to bore into the pipes and fix the valves," the general told El Universal.

Grajeda Regalado's allegations were echoed by security expert Martin Íñiguez, who told El Universal the oil theft trade involves the collusion of major organized crime networks, Pemex workers and corrupt local officials.

"There are local mayors who, with their own police officers, protect the members of organized crime groups that carry out this theft. They are associated with people from Pemex, with elements from the municipal, state and federal police and no doubt even the governors themselves," Íñiguez said.

Between 2006 and 2015, 123 Pemex workers and 12 former workers were arrested on charges of fuel theft, according to El Universal. In the past several years, the Mexican government has opened thousands of investigations of oil theft, though relatively few resulted in convictions.

Pemex estimates thieves steal around $1.4 billion of gasoline a year. The most recent figures available suggest the number of clandestine pipeline taps discovered continued to rise in 2016. After leaping from the 1,635 discovered in 2010 to 5,252 in 2015, Pemex recorded in 2,221 in the first five months of 2016.

In an effort to combat the trade, Pemex has recently acquired a raft of new high-tech military monitoring equipment from Israel, reported Milenio.

InSight Crime Analysis

Over the last week, Mexico has plunged into a social crisis after President Enrique Peña Nieto's announcement of a 20 percent rise in fuel prices sparked angry -- and occasionally deadly -- protests across the country.

The announcement lit the fuse of an already heated situation linked to fuel thefts. In December, Mexicans faced widespread fuel shortages, which authorities blamed partially on a sudden increase in fuel theft, the New York Times reported.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Oil Theft

Although Peña Nieto has said the price hike is to bring fuel prices in line with international market value rather than to make up for losses from theft, the ongoing failure to slow the rise of theft and resale of oil only heightens the sense of a government struggling to exert control over a critical natural resource sector.

Investigations

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