CARACAS, Sept 9 (Reuters) - Venezuela has charged nine people, including a Lieutenant who helped oversee security for state-run oil company PDVSA, with trafficking 15 tonnes of copper and lead belonging to the energy firm, the state prosecutor office’s said in a statement on Wednesday.
Workers at PDVSA’s Ayacucho division, in the northeastern state of Anzoategui, first alerted the Sebin intelligence agency to the “illegal extraction” of cables, according to the statement. A clandestine laboratory that processed the materials was then discovered and six people were arrested on site.
“Later, a link was made with the soldier and (two) of the state-run oil company’s employees, so they were immediately detained,” the state prosecutor’s office added.
The lieutenant was in charge of security for the installations while the two PDVSA employees were part of the ‘Prevention and Control of Losses’ division.
The incident is the latest in a string of thefts or smuggling attempts as Venezuela’s rampant crime becomes a headache for the oil industry. Hold-ups and thefts are on the rise in the sector that accounts for around 96 percent of the OPEC country’s hard currency income, a Reuters investigation found recently.
This month, Venezuelan police seized two trucks loaded with $1.5 million in oil equipment, charging it was about to be smuggled into neighboring Colombia. Authorities on Tuesday arrested seven people for allegedly attempting to smuggle diesel, an industry source and a law enforcement source said, as enormous fuel subsidies create a lucrative contraband business.
There is no official data on theft in the oil industry, however, which has also plagued energy-rich nations like Nigeria and Mexico for years.
PDVSA says it is ramping up security to safeguard operations, which include vast and remote oil fields as well as huge refineries by the coast in the country with the world’s largest oil reserves.
PDVSA and the Oil Ministry did not immediately reply to requests for comment. (Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by David Gregorio; @AlexandraUlmer, @ReutersVzla)