WKSTA to investigate

Price increase: criminal complaint against energy company

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09.07.2024 10:30

It is a thunderstorm that is now breaking over the Lower Austrian energy supplier EVN. A consumer protection association has now reported the company to the Public Prosecutor's Office for Economic Affairs and Corruption. The reason: EVN did not inform its customers of the sometimes enormous price increases of recent years in accordance with the law. According to the association, this was done deliberately and with the intention of enriching itself. Fraud is suspected.

In a statement of facts to the Public Prosecutor's Office for Economic Affairs and Corruption (WKSta), the consumer protection association based in Vienna demands the initiation of fraud proceedings against EVN: customers could have switched to cheaper providers before the increase in gas tariffs by up to 500 percent if they had been informed in good time. However, this information was allegedly not provided or not provided in accordance with the law.

Suspected fraud to be investigated
The association is asking the authorities to investigate the suspicion that EVN's actions constitute fraud in accordance with Section 146 of the Austrian Criminal Code. "EVN has therefore deliberately deceived its customers into an omission (termination and change of supplier), which has damaged the customers' assets and led to unlawful enrichment of EVN," the letter states.

From the statement of facts

VSV supports customers in civil proceedings against EVN AG. These lawsuits seek a declaration that EVN's price increases for electricity and gas purchases in autumn 2022 are invalid because these price increases were not communicated to customers contrary to Section 80 (2a) ElWOG and Section 125 (2) GWG and customers were therefore unable to exercise the special right of termination under Section 80 (2a) ElWOG or object to the increase in accordance with Section 125 (2) GWG

This is how the energy company counters
The association's accusations are nothing new in themselves: the dispute over the tariff increase and the information has been going on for a year and a half. "Our customers had the opportunity to decide for themselves how they wanted to be informed about upcoming increases when they signed the contract," explains EVN spokesperson Stefan Zach. The tariff in question was linked to the development of the Austrian Electricity and Gas Price Index and was adjusted once a year - up or down.

"Due to the distortions on the wholesale markets as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine, there was an increase in the indices in the period in question and a corresponding increase in tariffs," he continued. In connection with such automatic price changes, regulations were only issued by the legislator in summer 2023 that define information to customers in more detail. Prior to this date, this was left to contractual arrangements between companies and customers. Zach: "EVN has complied with these regulations."

Zitat Icon

Fraud requires the intent to unlawfully enrich oneself. An allegation of such intent is completely unfounded. As VSV itself states, price changes were made in accordance with the contracts. The information about the price changes was also provided in accordance with the agreements.

EVN-Sprecher Stefan Zach

Accusations "made up out of thin air"
Courts have also already stated that customers had to expect price increases in the fall of 2022 due to the general situation, especially for a product with automatic price adjustments. "The accusation of unlawful conduct is therefore completely unfounded," clarifies the EVN spokesperson.

Investigation questionable, timing suspect
However, a complaint is not yet a conviction: the fact that the WKStA has received the statement of facts with the request to examine a criminal complaint does not mean that it will initiate an investigation. As usual, the authority does not like to be shown its cards. It is also unclear why the consumer protection association submitted a statement of facts precisely today - around one and a half years after the increase.

Provincial politics reacts with criticism
For the Lower Austrian SPÖ, which has repeatedly attacked the state-owned energy supplier over the past few months, the complaint is of course a real feast for the eyes. "Last year, the black-blue-governed EVN made a profit of 530 million euros. The population has none of it, but there is a new luxury board member for 600,000 euros. Because the black and blue government prefers to sack people rather than give the money back to the population," says Provincial Councillor and Chairman Sven Hergovich. However, he is critical of the association's methods and prefers to fight politically for low energy costs and not with lawsuits: "Because Lower Austria will decide in favor of low EVN prices and against black and blue at the latest at the next state election."

This article has been automatically translated,
read the original article here.

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