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THE NUMBER of petrol stations allegedly cheating customers rose to four yesterday, all of which were named by Commerce Minister Neoclis Sylikiotis, who said however that following checks,  data showed the phenomenon was limited.

Sylikiotis said that the four petrol stations under suspicion were: Total Plus at 57 Ammochostos Avenue, 1016 Nicosia; Lukoil at 228 Tseri Avenue, 2044 Nicosia; Lukoil at 67 Artemidos Avenue, 6027 Larnaca; and Total Plus at 21 Aphrodite Avenue in Tremithousa, 8270 Paphos.

All four petrol stations are no longer part of the commerce ministry's cheap petrol stations' online guide, Sylikiotis said.

"I would like to take this opportunity to bring consumers' minds to rest because they are understandably worried with all they are hearing about. However in reality and according to our data, this phenomenon is limited," Sylikiotis said.

He added that the ministry had nevertheless intensified spot checks to ensure some 40 petrol stations were checked each week and was ensuring staff got relevant training.

Meanwhile oil companies yesterday also rushed to assure the public that the arrest of petrol station owners for rigging pumps to output less for the same money, were isolated and that strict security systems were in place.

The issue was at the centre of discussions at the Commerce Ministry yesterday, with the participation of all interested parties.

Various suggestions were made, which will be passed on to Sylikiotis.  Another meeting has been scheduled today at the same committee.

The head of Petrolina, Akis Lefkaritis, yesterday told CyBC radio that there had been suspicions over wrongdoings for some while, which the ministry had been informed about.

“There was some knowledge that certain petrol station owners had imported this mechanism from Greece,” said Lefkaritis. “The ministry had also been informed, but it didn’t move ahead because it was hard to find these people… relatively.”

He said that after hearing of this, Petrolina launched its own internal investigation.

“We visited all our petrol stations and thankfully we didn’t uncover any incidences,” said Lefkaritis, who added that the stations under suspicion were offering fuel at cheaper prices than others, which was what raised concern in the first place.

One petrol station owner from Larnaca was arrested on Friday and another from Nicosia is under investigation in connection with rigging fuel pumps to give drivers less fuel than they paid for.

The two are brothers and are both supplied by the same fuel company, which noticed they were making higher profits than expected, given the amount of fuel they sold.

It turned out that the Larnaca suspect’s fuel pump system was wired onto a computer via a modem. When the system was switched on, drivers would get 5.0 per cent less fuel than what the fuel pump monitor showed.

The petrol station owner has denied fraud and knowledge of the mechanism. Police believe the scam has been going on since May last year.

The chief advisor of oil company EKO, Akis Pegasiou, yesterday said companies carried out regular checks on petrol stations and there were strict security systems in place to ensure consumers were protected.

“The suspicions were raised mainly because of the difference in price (the companies that are under investigation were selling their fuel)”, said Pegasiou. And he said this was “because these stations were giving away around half of the station owner’s profit. If they are taking 5 cents and giving away around two or three, the station isn’t viable with what’s left, to cover the expenses and make a reasonable profit.”

But Pegasiou added that it was hard to prove any wrongdoing without solid evidence.

“We check our stations, in regards to the liquid fuel reserves they have, we check at least once a year, so we know what was purchased and what was sold, so if there is excess you know something is wrong,” said Pegasiou. “The stations are also checked by an independent contractor who checks the pumps once a year, so if there is something installed, which was the case in these stations, our contractors would have found it. An experienced engineer can spot it straight away, so I want to assure the public that these incidents are just isolated and the serious companies have very strict security systems to ensure such incidents don’t take place.”

Source: Cyprus-Mail

By Jacqueline Agathocleous

Published on March 27, 2012

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