Fuel shortage: the lucrative business of fuel thieves

11 October 2022

In the last few days, it has been an almost impossible task for many French drivers to find gas. A strike by Total employees is preventing normal supply at gas stations, and refueling is synonymous with a nightmare for drivers. So much so that the lucky ones who manage to fill their car with unleaded or diesel no longer look at the prices, only too happy to avoid running out of fuel. If this shortage is a handicap for many French people, it benefits certain traffickers who have specialized for years in the theft and resale of petrol. The latter suck the tanks of cars or trucks and sell the precious “black gold”. Normally the resale price is half price at the pump. Apart from the shortage obliging, the prices have increased and reached 3 to 4 euros per liter according to the recipients. We followed a dealer in the Paris region and filmed him with a hidden camera. Interview reveals the underside of this juicy business…

+ Sky-high prices and lack of petrol
In recent years in France, the price of petrol has risen significantly. In 2015, the average price at the pump was €1 per litres, unleaded like diesel. At the end of 2018, the price rose to €1.50 per liter on average, and even exceeded €2 in 2022. The fluctuation in petrol prices can partly be explained by the variation in the price of oil. But in France, the high prices at the pump are primarily due to excessive taxation. Taxes collected by the government make up more than 60% of the price of petrol and diesel. If we can see a small drop in prices at the end of the year, the French are facing a new difficulty: a strike among Total employees is currently causing a shortage, preventing many motorists from refueling…

+ Gasoline smuggling, a hot business for traffickers
As with any expensive or hard-to-find product, gasoline generates illegal trade. For years, dealers have understood that they could make a lucrative business out of it, sucking the tanks off vehicles or trucks. The goal: to resell the precious liquid on the black market. We filmed one of them. At night, he forces open the gas cap of a car or truck and runs a pipe into the tank. He then sucks in the pipe to create an air draft and let the gasoline empty itself into a container. When the “harvest” is complete, he takes his prey to a box where he stores his essence. The dealer explains to us that he rarely has more than 100 liters in his garage, enough to satisfy two or three customers. In fact, the demand is very high and he does not have time to make very large reserves… He also tells us that trucks are the preferred target of thieves because they contain more fuel. So of course there are various anti-theft measures: anti-theft caps, anti-siphon systems, protective plates or electronic detectors on the fuel gauge. However, despite this, some truck drivers do not lock their fuel flaps, preferring to have their fuel stolen rather than having their tank destroyed, which immobilizes their truck and ultimately proves to be more expensive…

A human smuggler steals petrol and sells it on to a motorist…

+ A juicy vein for dealers who can bring in €3,000 per month
When the trafficker has taken his reservations, we follow him for an agreement. He made an appointment with a regular customer around 02.00 in an isolated and uncrowded parking lot in the Paris suburbs. The dealer takes four cans with him and fills the tank with his client, who has ordered 30 liters of diesel. The operation lasts about fifteen minutes and goes smoothly. Usually, customers pay the dealer half the price of gasoline at the pump. But in these days of scarcity, prices have skyrocketed, with some dealers selling their precious “black gold” for between 3 and 4 euros per litre. A lucrative business that can bring in twenty more than 3,000 euros per month…


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