MEXICO CITY (AP) - Police in northern Mexico caught a gang that allegedly stole oil from state-owned pipelines and smuggled it across the border to sell it to U.S. refineries, authorities said Tuesday.
Federal police commissioner Rodrigo Esparza says the gang made protection payments to the Gulf drug cartel and its Zeta hitmen.
“The oil was sold to several refineries in the United States and they (the gang) received payments that were triangulated through various accounts to hide the origin of the money,” Esparza said. He did not identify the U.S. refineries that bought the oil.
Prosecutors say they froze 149 bank accounts and detected bank transfers of over $46 million related to the scheme, in which the oil was smuggled across the border in tanker trucks with false import documents.
Police said that nine members of the gang have been detained in the area of the border city of Reynosa and are being held for questioning on possible organized crime and money laundering offenses.
They said U.S. authorities helped in the year-long investigation that led to the detentions.
Organized crime prosecutor Marisela Morales said the gang “paid large sums of money” to the Zetas _ a branch of the Gulf cartel _ to be allowed to operate.
In a statement, the state-owned Pemex oil company called for punishing those responsible “with all the force of the state,” noting the company loses millions of dollars each year because of such thefts.