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Koch wins $12m in damages

Billionaire wine collector Bill Koch has been awarded $12m in damages by a Manhattan jury having emerged victorious over entrepreneur Eric Greenberg in a lawsuit over 24 fake bottles of wine.

Bill Koch and his lawyer pose with two of the bottles of counterfeit wine involved in the case. Credit: Jefferson Siegel.

Finding out the result last Friday, the 72-year-old energy tycoon and yachtsman said it was his happiest day since winning the America’s Cup in 1992.

“I feel outta sight! Over the moon!” Koch gleefully proclaimed as he emerged from a US District Court in Manhattan.

“We weren’t even expecting any damages and we got $12 million. Unbelievable!” he added.

Koch plans to use the $12m to continue his crusade to “clean up the wine auction industry,” and is to create a website highlighting fake wines and who sells them.

The as-yet unnamed website will include a list of 421 bottles Koch has identified in his own collection as fake after buying them for $4.4m over the years.

The verdict came against California-based Greenberg, who insisted throughout the trial that he never intentionally sold a fake bottle of wine.

Koch sued Greenberg over a batch of bottles he bought from him for $3.7m at a Zachys auction in 2005.

“Disappointed” – Eric Greenberg

Among the bottles were Château Latour 1864 bought for $14,160, several bottles of Cheval Blanc 1921 and a magnum of Pétrus 1921 bought for $29,500.

Koch snapped up 2,669 bottles from Greenberg’s cellar at the auction and launched legal proceedings against him in 2007 after discovering 24 of them were fake.

Despite his proclamations of innocence, Greenberg was found guilty of fraud, making materially misleading representations and false advertising.

Greenberg called the verdict “a disappointment” and vowed to appeal.

Koch’s lawyer, John Hueston, hinted that a criminal probe of Greenberg was underway, saying: “We’re cooperating with the FBI.”

Jurors had returned to court on Friday to hear Koch and Greenberg testify for a final time.

“I’m very sorry I had counterfeit wine. It’s a horrible thing,” Greenberg said, estimating that the case had cost both sides a total of $17 million.

Jury foreman Darrell Paul of the Bronx explained how jurors arrived at the $12m figure: “We each wrote what we thought Koch deserved and then averaged it,” he said.

The Greenberg case is one of four civil cases Koch is pursuing in the courts.

His next opponent is alleged counterfeiter Rudy Kurniawan, though the lawsuit has been put on hold until the end of Kurniawan’s current trail for several counts of fraud, set to start on 9 September.

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