COLOMBIA NEWS – On July 17, Colombian police arrested 14 individuals allegedly involved in an operation that stole gasoline for use in the cocaine laboratories of Martin Farfan Diaz, alias “Pijarbey.”
According to the police press release, some members of the group acted as truck drivers at an oil company to obtain information on the amount of oil in the company’s tanks. The criminal group allegedly used this information to pump gasoline out of storage tanks belonging to Pacific Rubiales in the department of Meta in Colombia’s Eastern Plains region, where Pijarbey operates.
According to El Tiempo, three of those captured were contracted employees of the company. They facilitated the theft by letting members of the criminal group into company facilities to fill gasoline tankers.
The group is believed to have stolen up to 200 gallons of gasoline a day, and to have operated for around two years in the region.
Pijarbey is the leader of the Libertadores de Vichada, a criminal group that splintered off from paramilitary organization the Popular Revolutionary Anti-Terrorist Army of Colombia (ERPAC).
Prior to doing time in prison in 2009, Pijarbey ran ERPAC operations in the Eastern Plains department of Vichada, from where he operated drug laboratories and trafficked cocaine into Venezuela. After getting out, he returned to Vichada and formed his current group, which has battled another ERPAC faction — the Bloque Meta — for control of drug trafficking routes and laboratories, and is believed to be allied with powerful criminal group the Urabeños.
Pijarbey appears to be expanding his operations into other departments. In 2013, he allegedly sent members of his organization to the department of Amazonas, near the Brazilian and Peruvian borders, to set up a drug trafficking route. The most recent arrests indicate Pijarbey is also currently operating in Meta, which borders Vichada to the southwest.
Oil theft is a way for Colombia’s illegal armed groups to generate revenue and obtain a precursor required for cocaine production. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has homemade oil refineries in the department of Nariño, which are used to process crude oil stolen from Ecopetrol’s Trasandino pipeline. The United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) paramilitaries also profited from the illegal oil trade during the height of their operations. Fuel theft is also a lucrative practice for criminal groups in Latin American countries such as Mexico.