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by Karl Peskett

In a clear breach of not only statutory, but also moral laws, a fuel distributor has been fined over $400,000 for watering down its premium fuels.

Based in Northen NSW, Dojoo Pty Ltd, trading as Ballina Petroleum Distributors, and its managing director, Santo Pennisi, were convicted of 28 separate breaches of the Trade Practices Act, after successful prosecution by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

The breaches happened between September 14 2004 and June 22 2007 when Dojoo sold about two million litres of diluted petrol in its Lead Replacement, Premium and Ultimate range by mixing it with regular unleaded fuel. Only after a tip-off, from a whistleblower on a TV current affairs program, was the matter investigated.

Mr Pennisi, who is one of four company directors, admitted to masterminding the scam to compete with retailing giants Coles and Woolworths who entered the petrol market.

Not only did he order tanker drivers to fill the wrong tanks, he also told admin staff to falsify company accounting records. The other possibility was of damage to high performance engines which rely on higher octane fuel to prevent detonation.

Justice John Logan of the Federal Court in Brisbane said, “Mr Pennisi must have known through his experience as a mechanic that such damage was likely. The consumers were in a position of vulnerability. A consumer is an ordinary Australian…they were relying on the labelling present on the bowser.”

Dojoo Pty Ltd was fined $400,000 and Mr Pennisi was instructed to pay a personal fine of $70,000. If it wasn’t for Dojoo’s attrition through a $200,000 contribution to a driving school set up by charity, the court said that the penalties would have been much stiffer.