Millionaire accused of trying to sell fake wine for $1.3m

US court hears that dealer claimed bottles were a 1929 vintage, but estate did not open until 1934

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The Independent US

A US millionaire wine dealer is facing fraud charges after being accused of trying to sell more than $1.3m (£800,000) in counterfeit wine, some of which seems to have made its way to London.

Prosecutors in New York charged Rudy Kurniawan, 35, with "multiple fraudulent schemes" relating to his wine business between 2007 and 2012, including attempting to sell fake wine and fraudulently obtaining millions of dollars in loans.

Several weeks ago, 21 of Mr Kurniawan's bottles worth £500,000 are believed to have made their way to a Spectrum and Vanquish auction in London. But they were reportedly withdrawn at the last minute on recommendation of the wine merchants Corney and Barrow.

Yesterday, Mr Kurniawan was refused bail after prosecutors – concerned he might attempt to flee to his home country of Indonesia – filed an emergency application.

Mr Kurniawan, said to be a constant fixture at the some of the US's biggest wine auction houses, offered buyers an unconditional return policy – something which is exceedingly rare in the industry.

In 2006 alone, he sold wine worth $35m, attracting a clientele including the billionaire businessman and collector William I Koch, who is now suing the dealer for allegedly selling him counterfeit wine.

But this weekend, Mr Kurniawan's days of wine and wealth may be over, if allegations in the case against him are proven, according to a Manhattan lawyer Preet Bharara.

The complaint alleges that in one scheme, Mr Kurniawan consigned for auction at least 84 bottles of counterfeit wine purporting to be from Domaine Ponsot in Burgundy, France which were expected to be sold for about $600,000. Mr Kurniawan attempted to sell one bottle that he claimed was a 1929 vintage, but the wine growers did not begin bottling from that estate until 1934, according to the complaint.

The prosecution claims the accused also consigned bottles of wine that had supposedly been bottled between 1945 and 1971 from the Clos Saint-Denis vineyard of Domaine Ponsot. But that vineyard was not productive until 1982. The wines were later withdrawn from the auction at the request of Domaine Ponsot's administrator.

When questioned by the administrator about the source of the wine, Mr Kurniawan apparently maintained that he had obtained the bottles from a person in Asia. He had handed over two telephone numbers for that person. But, according to the complaint, neither number led to that person or anyone who sold wine. One was for a regional Indonesian airline and the other for a shopping mall in Jakarta.

At a hearing in the District Court in Los Angeles last Thursday, prosecutors said a search of Mr Kurniawan's home had turned up materials which they claim were used in the counterfeiting of wine bottles.

They also claimed that Mr Kurniawan, who was arrested by officers from an elite New York-based squad that focuses on art and antique crimes, is living in the US illegally.