LJUBLJANA - Sales at Slovenia's largest fuel retailer Petrol fell by almost a quarter to 1.7 billion euros ($2.53 billion) in the first nine months of the year, as recession took a toll on volumes and prices.

The group reported in October that net profit had more than halved for the period to 19.1 million euros from 42.2 million a year earlier.

Net sales fell mainly due to lower prices of oil products and lower sales of oil products, which is a result of higher excise duties than in most neighbouring countries and of economic recession, Petrol said in a statement.

Petrol, which operates 430 filling stations in Slovenia, Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, Kosovo and Montenegro, increased its payroll by 8 percent to 3,611 employees over the past year and plans to raise this number to 3,681 by the end of 2009.

Petrol ended 2008 with a loss for the first time since it was listed in 1997 but managed to return to profit in the second quarter of 2009. (Reporting by Marja Novak in Ljubljana, editing by Will Waterman) ($1=.6710 Euro)