The government warned fuel distributors yesterday they will face penal charges if they are found to be causing artificial shortages of heating oil as of today, when a new tax provision comes into effect. A cold spell is forecast for the weekend. «Fuel outlets operate on government licenses, which entail certain obligations. Anyone acting unlawfully will suffer the consequences,» Economy Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis said. Under the new provision, designed to combat the illegal trade in fuel, the taxes paid by distributors for heating oil and automotive diesel will be equalized. They will sell heating oil minus the tax and be reimbursed for it later. Distributors have threatened not to apply the new measure, arguing that it is too cumbersome. The launch of the new measure has twice been postponed. Alogoskoufis said its introduction was preceded by exhaustive dialogue and no hikes in fuel prices are justified. The government intends to carry out stringent checks to ensure there are no irregularities. According to Deputy Finance Minister Antonis Bezas, out of a total of 7,000 fuel outlets, 4,750 have been certified under the new «Hephaistos» electronic system to sell the cheap heating oil. Households will continue paying the same price, -21 for 1,000 liters, and are obliged to supply distributors with the electronic payment code number which appears on their electricity bills, issued by the Public Power Corporation (PPC). As of tomorrow morning, consumers will be able to be obtain details of the fuel outlets in their area which are certified under Hephaistos by calling 801.100.8808. According to conservative estimates, the state coffers have to date been losing some -400 million annually from the illegal fuel trade, with distributors selling the cheaper heating oil as automotive diesel. Intensive electronic cross-checks will be carried out on all quantities of oil following their customs clearance. The process has been assigned to IT firm Singular Logic, which will use a large PPC database that was also used to configure the Hephaistos system. Through the system, authorities will be able to monitor any consumption that appears unusually high in relation to the size of a residence or apartment block.