Major theft investigation collecting dust

PHOTO: Ants Liigus

The Viru District Prosecutor’s Office has spent a year investigating systematic theft of motor fuel in Eesti Energia’s Estonia mine that has allegedly been going on for a decade.

Summer of 2016 in Väike-Pungerja. A long-time Eesti Energia employee, known East Viru County hobby athlete Oleg (name changed – ed.) fills the state company’s tanker truck to the brim at the Jetoil gas station inside the company’s closed compound.

The gas station’s meter shows that 5,000 liters of fuel has flowed into the tank. Oleg drives straight into the mine, dozens of meters below ground, where the fuel is delivered to mining machines that work long shifts. It is daily routine for the Estonia mine, and nothing seems out of the order.

However, Oleg sends a message with the number 0.2 to a colleague after he exits the mine. The SMS message also reads he needs the money faster this time because he is going on vacation. Next, he is approached by Eesti Energia’s internal control employees who ask Oleg to go with them.

The ensuing conversation confirms the department’s suspicions: systematic theft of fuel has been taking place at Eesti Energia for some time. Internal control had discovered an additional valve for secretly letting some of the fuel back into the station’s tanks some time ago.

While in this case Eesti Energia paid Jetoil for 5,000 liters of fuel, 200 liters flowed back into the gas station’s reservoir, which is what the number 0.2 in Oleg’s message signified. The phone included many other such messages. Oleg said that he was paid 30 cents per every liter pumped back for a total of €1,500-2,000 a month.

The internal control department knew that the scheme involved several other Eesti Energia truck drivers. The company had been paying for at least €5,000 worth of extra fuel in a situation where the mine used €200,000 worth of fuel monthly. The scheme is said to have been going on for at least the past decade.

Things pointed to a criminal organization. Eesti Energia filed a report of a criminal offense on August 30. The local criminal police were excited – they had recently managed to prove organized theft of raw materials by employees of the Silmet rare earth metals factory in Sillamäe and were now looking at what promised to be a similarly magnificent case.

Detectives knew the colleague who had overseen paying the drivers, as well as the potential mastermind of the scheme. Circumstances pointed to the operator of a small gas station in Jõhvi, called Andrei. Even though the mine’s gas station is owned by Jetoil, its day-to-day affairs were handled by Andrei. Criminals managed to replace the station’s narrow reflow pipe with a proper reflow valve and hose.

The reflow was not accidental as it required the truck driver to engage the system, confirmed by the gas station’s numerous CCTV recordings.

Because of the exciting nature of the case and the looming unmasking of an entire criminal organization, Eesti Energia decided not to fire employees tied to the case. The thieves could continue working to allow investigative organs to collect evidence.

The case moved into the hands of a special prosecutor, and everything seemed to be going great. However, the investigation quickly came to a complete halt. First, the special prosecutor was given another position. The case went to a prosecutor who didn’t look at the case file in months because of excessive workload. Next, the management of the criminal police in East Viru County was replaced. The promising case was shelved.

Postimees received this reply from the prosecutor’s office: “Criminal proceedings were launched based on suspicions of fraudulent conduct to determine the circumstances of the case. The case is in pre-trial procedure.”

The phrase “fraudulent conduct” really means the initially prestigious case has been removed from the list of priorities. Parties to fraudulent conduct continue as Eesti Energia employees as no suspicions have been brought against them. However, the mine has cut its monthly fuel consumption by thousands of liters.