Pemex suit charges US firms in gas smuggling

Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex), the state-owned oil company, has accused BASF Corp., Murphy Energy Corp. and three other US companies of knowingly buying stolen natural gas condensate from Mexican bandits, according to a lawsuit filed in Houston federal court. Pemex Exploracion y Produccion, the company’s production unit, accused the companies of facilitating a black market in natural gas condensate stolen from Pemex’s Burgos Field on Mexico’s Gulf Coast. As much as $300 million in liquids have been smuggled across the border in hijacked tanker trucks since 2006, Pemex asserts.

The complaint also named Trammo Petroleum Inc., Valley Fuels and US Petroleum Depot Inc., along with six individuals allegedly involved in the ring. The five, who do not work for BASF or Murphy, have already pleaded guilty to US charges linked to the smuggling scheme and await sentencing. Pemex seeks to damages from BASF and Murphy for having “directly assisted and encouraged” an organized criminal enterprise, Pemex attorney James Teater said in a statement.

“As long as they see a market for stolen Pemex condensate, they will find a way to steal it,” Teater said in court papers, referring to Mexican criminals who have hijacked tankers at gunpoint and eluded army troops and helicopters dispatched to defend the oilfields. BASF spokesman Frank Zeller countered in a statement: “The company was unaware that it was stolen material when the company acquired it.” (Bloomberg, June 7)

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