Workers At Pemex Installations Abducted--Pemex Officials
Published: Jun 11, 2010
By David Luhnow and Nicholas Casey
Of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
MEXICO CITY (Dow Jones)--At least a handful of workers at several oil and gas installations belonging to state-run oil giant Petroleos Mexicanos have been abducted by presumed members of drug cartels in the past few weeks, company officials said on Friday.
The abductions mark a new twist in Mexico's fight to defeat drug gangs, raising worries that cartels are increasingly infiltrating parts of the oil company in order to smuggle oil products.
(This story and related background material will be available on The Wall Street Journal website, WSJ.com.)
Black market smuggling of oil and gas products in Mexico is a big business. Analysts say Pemex loses close to $1 billion a year in smuggled products, stolen by criminal groups either acting alone or in league with Pemex employees.
"A few of our workers, at more than one well, have been abducted," said a high-ranking company official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The official spoke following local media reports that a drug gang had seized the operations of a natural gas well in northern Tamaulipas state and kidnapped several workers. The report caused leaders of Mexico's Congress to ask Pemex publicly what was happening.
The Pemex official denied that a well had been seized.
"Pemex is in control of the well and it is producing," he said. "But it is true that several workers at that site, as well as at several other wells, have been seized recently by people we think are linked to organized crime."
The official didn't know how many workers were missing. Pemex hasn't commented publicly on the case because of requests from family members of the workers who are hoping the men are still alive and have been abducted for money, the official said.
Theft of oil products is a long-running problem at Pemex. Last year, the company was embarrassed when it emerged that thieves were stealing diesel from an underground pipeline just a few blocks from Pemex's Mexico City headquarters.
Pemex said it lost $730 million in stolen products in 2008, the last year for which figures are available.
The kidnapping of Pemex employees wasn't the only piece of bad news from Mexico on Friday. Officials said that cartel gunmen had killed 19 people at a drug rehabilitation center in the northern city of Chihuahua.
The attack caused Mexican President Felipe Calderon to pause festivities for the World Cup, which began today, and express condolences to the family.
"These acts reinforce the need to combat criminal groups with the full force of the law," the president said.
While gruesome, the attack was not the first of its kind in northern Mexico, where drug cartels are believed to go searching for rivals hiding in rehabilitation centers. Last September, 17 men were killed after armed men burst into another center in that city. The attackers got away.
The attack occurred around 11 p.m. on Thursday evening after a group of about 25 men exited SUVs and entered the compound of Christian Faith and Life Center, a clinic for recovering drug addicts, state officials said.
Gunmen ordered their victims to lay face down, then sprayed the building with bullets, killing 19 and leaving two injured, according to news accounts and a government spokesman. More than 100 bullet casings from R15 assault rifles were found on the floor by investigators.