Kurniawan trial ‘a case about greed’, court told10th December, 2013 by Lucy Shaw
Prosecutors on first day of the long-awaited trial of alleged wine counterfeiter Rudy Kurniawan have told the jury that “greed” lies at the heart of the case.
As reported by AFP, lead prosecutor, Jason Hernandez, told the 12-memeber jury and judge Richard Berman in a Southern District New York yesterday: “This is a case about greed.
“For years, Rudy Kurniawan made millions of dollars from what he claimed were very old, very special wines made by very special French winemakers.
“Instead, they were made in his own kitchen in the suburbs of Los Angeles.”
Hernandez said that Kurniawan had created “a wine counterfeiting laboratory” at the LA home he shared with his mother where he blocked out a kitchen window so that no one could see what he was up to.
He went on to state that the 37-year-old made empty wine bottles look like old rare bottles, filled them with cheap wine and sold them for thousands of dollars.
The indictment alleges that during a search of his home, the FBI found evidence of numerous bottles being counterfeited.
Agents also found thousands of counterfeit labels for wines dating as far back as 1899, including labels for all the Bordeaux first growths as well as Burgundies such as Domaine Ponsot.
The home operation was fitted out with hundreds of used corks, foil capsules and hardened wax which, when heated, could seal the mouths of bottles.
There were also hundreds of rubber stamps for vintage dates, ranging from Château Latour 1899 to Screaming Eagle 1992, and empty bottles of fine and rare wines ready to be filled and “recycled”.
AFP reports that a thin-looking Kurniawan sat silent in court, wearing a grey suit with a white shirt and blue striped tie and glasses.
The question of whether Kurniawan had an accomplice is likely to crop up during the trial, with the defense painting Kurniawan as a scapegoat.
Defense attorney Jerome Mooney described Kurniawan as an “outsider” keen to belong to a group of rich, successful fine wine lovers in the US.
“In the wine market, there are a lot of counterfeits and alterations. This poor guy gets blame for eveything. It is just a house of cards,” Mooney told the court.
Kurniawan is accused of selling counterfeit wines at two 2006 auctions in New York that netted him US$10.6m and $24m respectively, with one collector allegedly paying $12,925 for a fake bottle of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.
In April 2008, 97 bottles of Domaine Ponsot belonging to Kurniawan were withdrawn at the last minute from an Acker, Merrall & Condit auction at Cru restaurant in New York.
Among the lots was a bottle of 1929 Ponsot Clos de la Roche, a grand cru the domaine didn’t produce under its own label until 1934, and 38 bottles of Ponsot Clos Saint-Denis dating back to 1945, despite the estate not making the wine until 1982.
Laurent Ponsot, head of Domaine Ponsot, is expected to testify during the case.
Indonesian-born Kurniawan, who has lived illegally in the US for a decade, faces up to 40 years in jail if convicted at the end of the trial, which is expected to last two weeks.