Bulgaria anti-trust watchdog fines Mareshki-linked fuel retailer for unfair practices

Bulgaria’s Commission for Protection of Competition said on August 3 that it filed petrol station operator Tradenet Varna 175 400 leva, or about 86 700 euro, for unfair trade practices, namely the sale of petrol and diesel fuel below production and retail costs.

The ruling is the result of a complaint lodged last year by seven other fuel retailers against Tradenet Varna, which operates petrol stations under the VM Petroleum brand, and Vesselin Mareshki, MP and leader of the populist Volya, the smallest party in the current National Assembly.

Varna-based Mareshki made cartel-busting his signature issue during the 2016 presidential campaign, when he finished fourth. But an investigation by CPC of two subsidiaries of Russian privately-held oil major Lukoil – its refinery in Bourgas on the Black Sea coast and the downstream arm – found last year that there was no evidence that either of them abused their market position.

The plaintiffs – Lukoil Bulgaria, OMV Bulgaria, Rompetrol Bulgaria, Eco Bulgaria, Nis Petrol, Petrol and Sinergon Petroleum – alleged that Tradenet Varna was selling its fuels at dumping prices and accused Mareshki of conducting a deliberate campaign to smear his competitors.

Tradenet Varna is owned by Mareshki’s sister and his mother is general manager, making him a related party, according to the plaintiffs. But CPC ruled that Mareshki’s various statements were not made as a representative of Tradenet Varna, rather as a public figure running for office and thus did not breach competition regulations.

Regarding the fine, which equals 0.1 per cent of Tradenet Varna’s turnover for 2017, the regulator said that it chose a milder punishment because of the company’s cooperation with the investigation and also because it found that Tradenet Varna’s infringement was an intermittent rather than constant one over the period reviewed.

Additionally, Tradenet Varna was ordered to pay the legal fees incurred by the plaintiffs, which totalled 15 500 leva. The ruling is subject to appeal at the Supreme Administrative Court within a period of 14 days.

(Photo: Kiril Havezov/sxc.hu)



The Sofia Globe staff

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