Court won't change date of hearing on Strum's partiality

Hearing set for after October 30, the deadline established by the Anti-Trust Court for Strum to present his own ruling.

The Supreme Court has rejected the petition by the Organization of Gas Station Owners in Israel to move up the hearing to disqualify Anti-Trust Commissioner Dror Strum from deciding on the merger of Dor Alon and Sonol, Dor Alon said Thursday. The organization had initiated the hearing, arguing that it was improper for Strum to decide the matter, since he was Sonol's legal advisor in the second half of the 1990s. Strum will end his term as Anti-Trust Commissioner at the end of the month and the organization had sought to move the hearing up to ensure that he would still be in office when it takes place. The hearing is set to take place after October 30, the deadline established by the Anti-Trust Court for Strum to present his own ruling. "We want the opportunity to make our claims to his face," said organization chairman Zvi Korman, adding that Strum himself had asked to be given another month to make the decision, placing it beyond his term. Korman's organization also opposes the merger itself, charging that it flies in the face of a reform in the late 1990s that sought to increase competition in the sector. The government required the three big gas station operators at the time - Paz, Delek and Sonol - to let go of 30 gas stations each, in a bid to introduce more than 20 smaller companies into the competition, Korman recalled. As Sonol's legal advisor, Strum lobbied against the reform - another reason he should be dismissed from the case, Korman said. "If the merger of Sonol and Dor Alon is approved, it will form one very large bloc, completely undoing the reform," said Korman, who owns a Paz gas station. Korman noted that in his part of Tel Aviv, he is the only Paz operator, surrounded by six Sonol stations and four bearing the Dor Alon insignia. "This isn't competition, this is elimination," Korman argued, adding that Dor Alon would then also have no more incentive to acquire individual gas stations, bringing down their value. Dor Alon said that the court's decision "proves, once again, that the courts are disgusted by the behavior of interested parties and their interference with the merger between Sonol and Dor Alon, which was approved by the [Anti-Trust] Commissioner before the agreement was even signed." Dor Alon CEO and President David Wiessman suggested that Korman was opposing the merger due to his connection with Paz, which had funded earlier suits and actions carried out by the organization. "The vast majority of the gas stations [belonging to the organization] did not know about the procedure being carried out behind closed doors, nor about their being used to oppose [the merger], and have made Sonol and Dor Alon aware of their strident opposition to being used as gamepieces," Wiessman said. Korman's organization counts "several hundred" owners of gas stations bearing the logos of Sonol, Paz and Delek, in addition to those now under Alon and Gal that were previously part of one of the first three, he said.