The Dijin is investigating a multi-million dollar oil theft in Colombia. The news is not new; it was exposed a year ago by the Unidad Investigativa de Noticias Caracol (Investigative Unit of Caracol News). Ecopetrol, the oil giant, has confirmed that it will appear as a victim in the case.
The investigated theft amounts to 360,000 million Colombian pesos (approximately 83 million dollars). Major Juan Guillermo Uribe confirmed to the media the investigation and the alleged involvement of businessman Hernando Silva Bickenbach. He is currently considered the main marketer of the stolen product.
The defense of Silva Bickenbach, legal representative of Niman Commerce, has denied the charges and has stated that they will prove his innocence.
Ecopetrol to appear as a victim
After President Gustavo Petro expressed the need to investigate possible complicity within Ecopetrol, the company has announced that it will appear as a victim in the process. Petro also requested an investigation of Hernando Silva, a process that the police have now confirmed.
“This Dijin investigation shows one of the biggest robberies against the Colombian state. (…) The criminals were ‘upstanding’ people from the wealthiest sectors of the country,” the president wrote on his Twitter. Petro concluded with “Whether the robbery had support within Ecopetrol must be investigated” a statement that has had its effect.
Ecopetrol has already stated that it will appear as a victim, as will its subsidiary Cenit. It is worth noting that the company is majority-owned by the State. Therefore, the fraud may have caused significant damage to the national finances. The process is being pursued against 17 individuals and about 40 companies. They are being investigated for oil theft and smuggling.
Esteban Piedrahita, a director of Ecopetrol, has been firm regarding the company’s involvement. “Don’t talk nonsense. Ecopetrol is a victim in the criminal process against the oil trafficking delinquents,” Piedrahita wrote on his social media.
The newspaper El Tiempo has reported that assets worth 1.3 trillion pesos have been seized. The individuals involved have denied the accusations. The same source has announced that charges will be brought against them in October. They will be accused of conspiracy to commit crimes, appropriation of hydrocarbons, and falsification of private documents.
Trucks loaded with oil
According to the investigation, the suspects used more than twenty trucks, each with a capacity of 12,000 gallons. These vehicles were loaded with oil in Venezuela and then transported to Colombia, where they mixed the stolen oil with the one taken from the Caño Limón-Coveñas pipeline. In this latter operation, the pipeline theft, members of the ELN guerrilla are involved.
The Prosecutor’s Office believes that Swiss Terminal Barranquilla was used, without the company’s knowledge, in the operation to steal the crude oil. The investigation involves the former sub-manager of the company, who stored and traded the looted oil. As a result, Swiss Terminal Barranquilla currently faces an embargo of 22,800 million pesos. However, the company has been accepted as a victim in the process.
Some of those under investigation
A total of 17 businessmen are being investigated. The main link is Hernando Silva, and some of the names that have been disclosed are:
-Omar Enrique Morales Bobadilla. He is the financial director of an oil company and is accused of preparing chemical mixtures to make the stolen crude oil suitable for sale.
-Mira Janeth Medina Flórez. She is the legal representative of a company that allegedly issued documents with false information to support the transportation of the fuel.
-Catalina Quintero Rincón. Responsible for managing and administering permits and procedures with state authorities to acquire chemicals to transform the crude oil before commercializing it.
Finally, as previously revealed by the investigation of Noticias Caracol, 40 companies are also under investigation. Among them, Gunvor Colombia S.A.S. stands out. It is a regional branch of the multinational Gunvor Group, headquartered in Amsterdam, engaged in energy business and trade, transportation, and storage of petroleum products.