Greece’s biggest refiner, Hellenic Petroleum (ELPE), yesterday reported a 36 percent jump in group pretax profits to 165.8 million euros in the first half, year-on-year, including 60 million from the sale of the option to the government of increasing its stake in the Public Gas Corporation. ELPE, which reported under International Accounting Standards, said sales rose 25.8 percent to 2.12 billion euros and attributed the improvement to stronger international refining margins, higher production and sales, cost containment, higher crude oil prices and the integration of distribution subsidiaries in Cyprus and Montenegro into the group. Motor Oil Hellas, the country’s second biggest refiner, which is to merge with ELPE, said in a statement net group pretax earnings fell to 52 million euros in the first half from 54.2 million in the same period of 2002, despite a hefty rise in sales from 775.9 million to 968 million euros. Motor Oil said depreciation and amortization costs amounted to 3 million euros and that it is continuing its 400-milion-euro investment program to 2005, with a budget of 70 million this year. The two groups’ shareholders are expected to approve the merger on September 18. ELPE Managing Director Dimitris Karahalios said the group was in the process of reaching a friendly settlement with the government of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia over the dispute concerning the terms of operation of the OKTA refinery, which is ELPE-controlled. He said that following the closure of the local refinery, the group will now be the sole supplier in Cyprus and that the company is due to begin exploration for deposits in Montenegro through a local subsidiary next month.