Fuel firms hit with fines

The Competition Commission slapped fines of nearly -9 million on three of the country’s largest petrol refineries for price-fixing practices in a sector dominated by a government-controlled firm. The commission said that Hellenic Petroleum (ELPE), Petrola and Motor Oil Corinth Refineries were found to have jointly adjusted their prices at the same time. ELPE and Petrola, which have merged, will be fined a total of -7.3 million, while Motor Oil will face a -1.5 million penalty. «They harmonized their pricing policies regarding the sale of jet fuel in order to cover the maintenance cost of storing fuel reserves in violation of the law,» the commission said. The investigation took place after the International Air Transport Association (IATA) filed a complaint in May 2003 to energy regulator RAE. The case was then passed on to the commission. The decision is expected to be followed by a series of measures the commission will put forth aimed at helping boost competition in the sector. Sources said the release of the decision was delayed a few months as authorities took a second look at the file. The markets watchdog was checking to find any problems with the file after one of its senior officials was charged with blackmailing a dairy company in October last year in order not to uncover price-fixing practices in the sector. Sources said that a further investigation in the broader fuel sector is expected and that foreign refinery company operating in Greece is likely to be hit with a massive fine. State-controlled ELPE is Greece’s largest refinery group and has a market value of about -3.4 billion. The company has denied the charges and said that it will appeal the decision. «Hellenic Petroleum believes the commission did not take into account crucial evidence and issues that had been raised by the company and as a result does not at all agree with the decision,» the company said. Motor Oil made no comment.