President says fuel theft costs Mexico up to $3.5B yearly

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador says the country loses $2.5 to $3.5 billion annually to fuel thieves who drill illegal taps into government pipelines.

Lopez Obrador said Friday that "there still isn't an exact figure" on the losses. The state-owned Petroleos Mexicanos company hasn't given out new figures on pipeline taps since September. The last report indicated that 11,240 taps were found in the first nine months of 2018, or about 41 per day.

The illicit fuel-theft industry involves drilling taps, bribing or threatening oil company employees, stealing tank trucks to carry the fuel and turf battles between rival gangs.

That has caused a surge in the number of homicides in states like Guanajuato, where fuel theft is rampant.

Lopez Obrador has promised stiffer punishments for the crime.