Champagne fraudsters jailed

Three people accused of selling fake vintage Champagne have been handed suspended prison sentences and fined.

Esterlin where the three accused worked

The three, all now ex-employees of the Champagne house Esterlin, were accused seven years ago of bottling non-vintage wines from their co-operative and selling them as vintage to the discount chain Ed – owned by Carrefour.

One of the accused, Franck Zehner, the ex-cellar master at Esterlin admitted that none of the bottles had actually been vintage.

He told the court in Châlons: “From the time I arrived in 2000, a true vintage was never sold in the supermarket Ed, never.”

As many as 400,000 bottles, worth around €2 million are believed to have been sold to the chain between 2002 and 2005.

The other two defendants apparently tried hard to distance themselves from Zehner.

Ex-director of administraion and commerce, Lysiane Géraudel, is said to have repeated constantly that “I had nothing to do with the cellar”, according to French newspaper l’Union.

Similarly, Esterlin’s former president, Patrick Jean, said: “I’m too trusting and therefore I wasn’t at the house all of the time. I didn’t truly concern myself with the cellar.”

Their actions were labelled “despicable” and a “serious blow to the image of Champagne” by the prosecution.

Nor did the judge apparently entirely believe Jean and Géraudel’s protestations of innocence, asking what exactly Zehner had to gain if he was acting alone; “nothing”, he concluded.

The trio were also charged with breaking appellation laws and using sugar to enrich musts in 2004 and 2005.

The three were given suspended sentences ranging from seven months to a year and fines between €1,000 to €3,000.

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