Police in Rajasthan have cracked a criminal syndicate accused of smuggling more than 50 million litres of crude oil inside water tankers from India’s largest onshore oilfield, an official said on Sunday.
The theft at the Cairn India oilfield went undetected for nearly six years until police in the western desert state arrested 25 people this week for involvement in the sophisticated smuggling network.
Local media reported $7.75 million worth of oil could have been stolen in total from the oilfield run by a subsidiary of British mining giant Vedanta Resources.
More than 75 people, many drivers and contractors working at the oilfield, are still wanted in connection with the heists, said district police chief Gangandeep Singla.
“The company suspected something fishy was happening and complained to us, and during investigations we found this was an organised ring,” he told AFP.
He said the drivers were authorised to carry water—a byproduct in oil exploration—from exploration sites for dumping but some of the tankers were filled with crude instead.
The drivers were disabling their GPS devices to avoid tracking and detection. More than 30 trucks have been seized, with numbers likely to grow, police said.
The oil was sold to two small factory owners nearby, who stockpiled the crude in underground tanks before selling it on to clients across India.
The stolen oil was used in road construction and diesel production, police said.
In February, police in Uttar Pradesh arrested nearly a dozen people accused of stealing $15.5 million worth of petroleum from a high pressure refinery pipeline in the northern state.
The gang had purchased land adjacent to the refinery and dug a tunnel to tap the pipeline owned by state-run Hindustan Petroleum.
India imports nearly 82% of its crude oil to meet its energy requirements.
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