Russian Investigators Find Suspects in Oil Contamination Case

(Bloomberg) -- Russia’s Investigative Committee identified six suspects in the contamination of millions of barrels of crude, which shut down pipeline shipments to some European countries.

The suspects, including Nefteperevalka OJSC Chief Executive Officer Svetlana Balabay and deputy Rustam Khusnutdinov, repeatedly stole crude volumes worth at least 1 million rubles ($15,340) between August 2018 and April 2019, the investigators alleged.

Four of the suspects have been detained, and the remaining two are wanted, according to a statement on the investigators’ website.

In March and April this year, some of the suspects allegedly supplied oil contaminated with organic chlorides to a pipeline point in Russia’s Samara region to hide oil theft, the Committee said, without elaborating on the details of the crime. The dirty batches then entered the national pipeline system run by Transneft PJSC, it said.

In late April, refineries in some eastern European countries refused to accept oil from the Soviet-era Druzhba pipeline, which starts in Russia, amid reports of an extremely high level of organic chlorides in the crude. This led to the shutdown of both Druzhba export links, which still haven’t resumed work. Organic chlorides contaminated around 30 million barrels of Russian crude, enough to fill 15 supertankers, consultant Energy Aspects Ltd. estimated last week.

Balabay is both the chief executive of Nefteperevalka, registered in the Nikolaevka settlement in the Samara region, and its sole beneficiary, according to the Russian commercial company database. The charter capital of the company is set at 10,000 rubles, the database shows.

The Investigative Committee also named Vladimir Zhogolev, chief executive officer of Petroneft Aktiv OJSC, as among the suspects. Petroneft Aktiv is also registered in Nikolaevka, with a charter capital of 20,000 rubles, the database shows. As of the end of 2017, the latest available financial data, the company’s total net assets were worth 64.5 million rubles. Sergey Balandin, deputy director for Magistral OJSC, was also named as a suspect.

Neither Nefteperevalka nor Petroneft Aktiv could immediately be reached for comment. No company with the name Magistral OJSC, which lists Balandin as an executive, could be found in the database.

Transneft earlier named a facility in the Samara region as the source of the crude contamination. Samaratransneft Terminal, or STNT, which was identified by Transneft as the owner of the facility, denied the allegations saying it sold the property to Nefteperevalka in 2017. “There are no commercial relations between Nefteperevalka and STNT currently,” it said in a statement on its website in late April.

Russia has been working to restore crude exports via both links of the Druzhba pipeline, expecting flows to Europe to resume partially in the second half of May, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said at a government meeting Tuesday. This is later than a previous estimate by Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak, who said April 27 that exports to Europe would fully resume in two weeks. Belarus, a transit country for crude flows via the pipeline, said it may take “months of hard work” to restore the full-scale operations.

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