A vintage crime: Dom Perignon conman's 100,000-bottle fraud

Turkish folk singer conned French vineyards then sold wine to London restaurants

Mark Hughes,Crime Correspondent
Saturday 14 February 2009 01:00 GMT

The modest restaurants of Britain's Turkish community would not appear to have much in common with the Michelin-starred establishments owned by the likes of Gordon Ramsay and Heston Blumenthal. But unknown to them and their customers, and thanks to the shady dealings of a conman named Dogan Arslan, their wine lists could be of a similar calibre.

For 10 months, Arslan carried out a scam which has flooded Turkish tavernas with vintages that are usually reserved for connoisseurs dining in much more salubrious settings. Between January and October 2007, the 40-year-old Turkish folk singer conned French vineyards out of hundreds of thousands of bottles of wine – making more than £1m in the process.

He would then sell the wine, much of which had a retail value of £200 a bottle, for just £60 a case to shops and restaurants in the Turkish community in London and the South-east. He was jailed for four-and-a-half years last week after a police raid found 37,000 bottles of wine in a warehouse. Detectives believe Arslan managed to sell more than 100,000 bottles of wine during his 10-month fraud. But he kept the most expensive for himself; at his flat in Wood Green, north London, police found bottles of £800 Dom Perignon 64.

DS Paul Cheadle, of Haringey CID, said: "The most shocking moment of this investigation came when we worked out that he was making about £17,000 per day, tax free. That's more than most Premiership footballers. In a lot of cases Arslan was conning modest farmers out of huge sums of money."

Arslan would contact a vineyard pretending to be the wine-buyer at a plush London hotel and order a vast amount of expensive wine. He would then have it delivered to his warehouse in Markfield Road, Tottenham. He would use the names of high-profile hotels and their employees. His favoured tactic was to pretend to be the finance director at the £3,000-a-night Jumeirah Carlton Tower Hotel in Knightsbridge. He would then send a fax on headed paper – made by taking the company's logo from its website – and change the contact details to his own mobile phone number.

He would pay for the wine – including Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Pomerol and St Emilion Grand Cru – using cheques which would bounce. He was able to get away with it for so long because vineyards are paid 30 days after delivery. In all he is known to have defrauded 14 producers in France, but police say he probably conned more.

Detectives only became aware of the fraud in August 2007 after being contacted by staff at the Jumeirah Carlton Tower Hotel, who had become suspicious after a vineyard owner called them to ask about their recent order – one which they had not made. The order related to a £50,000 purchase of 7,200 bottles of wine. The police contacted the vineyard owner and delivery driver and were taken to the warehouse expecting to find six pallets of wine. What they found was 78 pallets with 37,000 bottles.

After Arslan was arrested police found an invoice booklet in his car which showed his "transactions" for two of the 10 months. In 60 days he had made more than £1m selling hundreds of thousands of bottles of expensive wine at a fraction of the price. DS Cheadle added: "Because of the vast quantity and the fact that he refuses to admit to this we will probably never know where all this wine ended up. The likelihood is that he sold it to restaurants and shops in the Turkish communities in London and the South-east. But I have no evidence to suggest that is the case, so it's highly probable that these restaurants are selling £200 wine as cheap house wine and nobody realises."

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