The email went out on the penultimate Friday in July. Just a few days after a Blick research revealed how drivers are fleeced while refueling. Petrol pump operator Markus Gasser (53) from Dagmersellen LU showed how enormous the profit margins are with diesel. And that with the big chains around 40 cents per liter flow into their own sack.
The sender of the mail is an employee of a Zurich trading company. The company is within the control radius of Avia, which with almost 600 petrol stations is the clear number one in the Swiss market.
The email is short. The signature is longer than the actual content. But the subject is tough: «column price correction» is in the line. One word. And before the salutation it appears a second time, in bold and underlined: «Column price correction». This is followed by the recommendation to lower the petrol price and the diesel price “immediately”. The price of gasoline by two cents. The diesel price by three cents.
The required “correction” is detached from the purchase price. It is sold as a recommendation. And – this is particularly problematic – as a recommendation from all mineral oil importers. It is aimed at a group of customers that cannot be further identified. It is a mass mail that is also noticed outside of the Avia group. It arouses suspicion and once again raises the question of whether there will be unauthorized agreements in the fuel market.
Weko is active
Blick has the email, leaked by an independent petrol station operator who wants to remain anonymous. The industry is small, everyone knows each other, depends on a good relationship and doesn’t want anyone to be an enemy. Certainly not the first in the gasoline market.
“Such emails keep coming back,” says the petrol station operator who forwarded the email. He senses a sense of conformity and wonders why the authorities in Bern are not intervening.
In fact, the Competition Commission (Weko) has been dealing with the topic for years, and after the Blick report from July it is paying particular attention. “We are monitoring the market for fuels and have repeatedly received indications of possible price agreements,” said Comco spokesman Patrik Ducrey to Blick a few weeks ago. At that time the diesel prices were a talking point. “The same prices do not have to be the result of an agreement, they can also be the result of competition”, it was said at the time.
And now? Is the e-mail proof of an attempt at an unauthorized agreement? Weko vice Olivier Schaller (55) took care of the matter on request. He comes to the conclusion that “there are no sufficient indications of behavior that is problematic under antitrust law”. One wants to refrain from in-depth investigations “in this matter”.
Schaller bases his judgment on the fact that the “recommendation” to adjust the price was made “on the basis of current developments in the price of crude oil on the international commodity exchanges”. “Such information could in principle have a positive effect on market transparency,” said the competition watchdog.
And what does the company concerned say from the circle of industry king Avia and the sender of the problematic e-mail? Contacted by Blick, the company is back. The correction «recommendation» is pure information. Not binding. Customer service.
The e-mail went out to around 20 petrol station operators and has nothing to do with the Avia network, the trading company weighs down. The choice of words, says one responsible, was “wrong”. “Really wrong even.” He promises improvement and says that some are still not clear how sensitive the subject is.