Koch to revive fake Jefferson wine case

William Koch has asked a US appeals court to revive a lawsuit against Christie’s in which he accused the auction house of fraud over the sale of wines owned by US President Thomas Jefferson.

William Koch

Yesterday, a federal appeals court panel in New York questioned whether Koch had conducted timely due diligence when doubts were raised about four bottles of 1787 Château Lafite engraved “Th.J” that were sold to him in 1987 by German wine dealer Hardy Rodenstock for around US$500,000.

US district judge Barbara Jones threw out Koch’s lawsuit against Christie’s last March, ruling that his claim of fraudulent concealment was barred by the statute of limitations – an enactment that sets the maximum time after an event that legal proceedings based on that event may be initiated.

Koch, the founder of Oxbow Group energy company, appealed the decision, saying that Rodenstock and the long time head of Christie’s wine department, Michael Broadbent, were associates in the purported fraud.

Christie’s fought the lawsuit, arguing that Koch falsely claimed he did not learn about credible issues of the authenticity of the wine until 2005.

Yesterday’s questioning focused on the statute of limitations and the timeliness of Koch’s investigations into the wine.

One of the purportedly fake Jefferson 1787 Lafite bottles

Koch, who is worth around US$4 billion according to Forbes magazine, sued Christie’s on the grounds that it had agreed to promote Rodenstock’s reputation and sell his wines.

The lawsuit also said Christie’s had lobbied The Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello – Jefferson’s former home in Virginia, to vouch for the wine.

The appeals court heard that a 1985 report by Monticello had raised doubts about the provenance of the wine and that there had been articles in the wine press in the early ‘90s reporting that no one had proven the wines were Jefferson’s.

Koch’s lawyer argued that the lawsuit should be allowed because more details had been revealed in a Monticello report from 2005, including the fact that Jefferson ordered an entire year’s supply of wine in a single purchase.

The orders from 1787 to 1792 were intact and none reflected purchases of the “Th.J” wine.

The court did not immediately issue a ruling, but will give a written opinion at a later date.

Koch has previously sued American auction houses Zachy’s and Acker Merrall & Condit, and German wine collector and dealer Hardy Rodenstock for fraud.

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