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Dealer in US accused of selling counterfeit wineIndonesian taken into custody in LA on mail and wire fraud chargesNew York Times10 March 2012Rudy Kurniawan, an Indonesian living in the United States, had ascended to the upper reaches of the wine world on both coasts, renowned as much for his palate as for his eye, fixed often on the highest of high-end bottles. His presence at auctions was constant. His interest by itself was enough to drive prices at the top of the market.And as his collection brought in millions, he made a show of his own authenticity, offering major buyers an unconditional return policy - exceedingly rare in the industry - while attracting a clientele that included billionaire William Koch. But on Thursday, in the culmination of persistent rumblings about the veracity of his products, Kurniawan was arrested in Los Angeles by the FBI on charges that he had tried to sell counterfeit wine that, if genuine, would have been worth US$1.3 million.Kurniawan, who sold US$35 million worth of wine in 2006 alone, was taken into custody in Los Angeles on mail and wire fraud charges filed in federal court in New York, according to court papers.The criminal complaint in the case said that in 2008, Kurniawan consigned for auction at least 84 bottles of counterfeit wine purporting to be from Domaine Ponsot in Burgundy, France, which were expected to sell for approximately US$600,000. Although he represented the wine as authentic, it was not, prosecutors said.He was also charged with trying to sell a single bottle that he claimed was a 1929 Domaine Ponsot. That was not possible, according to the complaint, because Domaine Ponsot did not begin estate bottling until 1934.Kurniawan, 35, was also charged with fraudulently obtaining millions of dollars in loans to finance what prosecutors called his ‘high-end lifestyle’. Prosecutors said that a search of his home had turned up materials used in the counterfeiting of wine bottles, according to a person briefed on the proceeding. According to the complaint, he also consigned wine that had purportedly been bottled between 1945 and 1971 from the Clos St-Denis vineyard of Domaine Ponsot, even though the domaine did not make wine from that vineyard until 1982. The wines were later withdrawn from the auction at the request of Domaine Ponsot’s administrator.Kurniawan maintained that he had obtained the bottles from a person in Asia and had given the administrator two telephone numbers for that person, according to the complaint. But neither number led to that person or anyone else who sold wine, the complaint said; one number was for a regional Indonesian airline and the other was for a shopping mall in Jakarta.The arrest of Kurniawan, who is charged with three counts of wire fraud and three counts of mail fraud, was announced in a news release issued by the office of the US attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara.‘The bad-faith sale of any commodity you know to be a counterfeit, fake or forgery is a felony,’ Janice Fedarcyk, the FBI’s assistant director in charge of the New York office, said in the news release. ‘Whether you are peddling a Picasso or a Petrus, a Botticelli or a Burgundy, unless it is what you say it is, the sale is a fraud.’‘Mr Kurniawan’s days of wine and wealth are over, if the allegations in this case are proven,’ Mr Bharara said in the news release.
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