Bloomberg News

Pemex Sues U.S. Firms for $300 Million in Stolen Fuel

June 01, 2011

(Corrects description of defendants in second paragraph of story published May 31.)

May 31 (Bloomberg) -- A Petroleos Mexicanos unit sued 11 U.S. firms over claims they helped Mexican drug cartels smuggle and re-sell more than $300 million in natural gas liquids stolen from Mexico’s northern oilfields into the U.S.

Pemex Exploracion y Produccion claims in its complaint that businessmen from Texas and Utah conspired to sell its stolen natural gas condensate to U.S. end users, including Plains All American Pipeline LP, SemCrude LP and Western Refining Co. Those end users were “innocent” buyers of the condensate, according to the complaint.

“All of the defendants have participated and profited -- knowingly or unwittingly -- in the trafficking of stolen condensate in the United States and have thereby encouraged and facilitated the Mexican organized crime groups that stole the condensate,” Mark Maney, Pemex’s lawyer, said in the complaint filed May 29 in federal court in Houston.

“As long as there is a U.S. market for stolen Mexican condensate, the thievery will continue,” Maney said in the complaint.

Pemex accused owners of Saint James Oil Inc. of Sandy, Utah, and Superior Crude Gathering Inc. of Corpus Christi, Texas, of knowingly plotting with a trio of American businessmen who the company says have admitted to conspiring to smuggle stolen Mexican natural gas liquids into the U.S.

Mexican Tanker Trucks

The Americans transferred the illegal feedstocks from Mexican tanker trucks, which the drug gangs often hijacked at gunpoint, into tankers and storage terminals in the U.S., according to Pemex’s complaint. The conspirators bribed Mexican officials and forged documents to facilitate border crossings and resale to U.S. refiners, Pemex alleged. More than 140 individuals -- including two border guards -- have been criminally charged by Mexican authorities probing the scheme, the company said.

Pemex said any U.S. firm buying Mexican condensate from a middleman must have known it might be trafficking in stolen property, as Mexican law has forbidden the sale of such product by anyone other than an official Pemex broker since 2006, according to the complaint.

Gas condensate is a pure liquid produced in conjunction with some natural gas that competes directly with light crude oil as a feedstock for refineries and petrochemical plants.

The Mexican agency’s suit asks that the three U.S. end users repay Mexico only for the value of the allegedly stolen feedstocks Pemex claims the firms “ignorantly” purchased through the scheme.

‘Knowing Conspirators’

Pemex, however, seeks to hold the other, so-called “knowing conspirators” financially responsible for all $300 million in natural gas liquids the Mexican government calculates drug gangs have stolen and resold into the U.S. since 2006.

Roy Lamoreaux, a spokesman for Plains All American Pipeline, didn’t immediately return a call today seeking comment on Pemex’s suit. Jennifer Gordon, a SemCrude spokeswoman, and Jeffrey Beyersdorfer, the investor relations director for Western Refining Co., didn’t immediately return voice-mail messages seeking comment after regular business hours.

Lawyers for the owners of Saint James Oil and Superior Crude Gathering couldn’t be immediately located.

The case is Pemex Exploracion y Produccion v. Big Star Gathering Ltd., 11-cv-02019, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas (Houston.)

--Editors: Peter Blumberg, Mary Romano

To contact the reporter on this story: Laurel Brubaker Calkins in Houston at laurel@calkins.us.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net


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