Fuel thieves face death if changes adopted

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 April, 2006, 12:00am


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Stiffer penalties urged to halt dangerous practice of tapping into pipelines

Thieves found siphoning off fuel from mainland pipelines could face the death penalty if sentencing proposals from the Ministry of Public Security are adopted by judicial authorities.

The deputy chief of the Ministry of Public Security's Public Order Administration, Ma Weiya , said yesterday police officers investigated about 4,300 fuel-related crimes last year, leading to the arrest of 2,877 suspects and the recovery of about 1 billion yuan for petrol companies.

Energy conservation has been highlighted by the central government as part of efforts to achieve sustainable development.

Mr Ma said most of the criminal activity involved farmers tapping into pipelines, but organised gangs had also been detected stealing, processing and selling fuel.

'Some local officials or employees of petroleum companies have colluded with thieves to offer information and help,' he said.

'Many pipelines were fitted with valves ... And once the pipeline has been seriously damaged, for example, the whole section needs to be replaced. The economic losses are huge and it also affects production and normal supplies.'

Mr Ma said that the penalties for theft - between three and seven years in prison - were too lenient to be a deterrent and tapping into the pipelines was extremely dangerous.

The ministry had suggested the Supreme People's Court and the Supreme People's Procuratorate come up with a legal interpretation defining damage to fuel pipelines as 'destroying explosives and incendiary equipment', an offence that can attract the death penalty.

'The crimes involved with fuel are difficult to eradicate and the situation may worsen in some places,' Mr Ma said.

'If a spark ignited a blast on the street, how many people could lose their lives?'

China has nearly 30,000km of long-distance fuel pipelines.

The ministry said that between 2002 and last year, police investigated almost 12,000 cases of fuel theft, detained more than 9,000 suspects, and helped petrol companies - mainly Sinopec and China National Petroleum Corp - recover 2.32 billion yuan in lost production.

In a campaign that will continue until November, 23 provinces and municipalities have increased security along fuel pipelines, with cases of fuel theft nationwide dropping by about 30 per cent a year since 2003.