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80% of Kurniawan wine ‘fake’

The trial of alleged wine fraudster, Rudy Kurniawan, took another strange turn last week when one of the Indonesian national’s own expert witnesses said that 80% of the wine seized by police in his house was fake.

Speaking at a pretrial hearing in New York last week, the opinion was that of Cornelius Robert Collins, a former importer for San Francisco-based merchant Draper and Esquin in the 1970s who later authenticated wine for collectors.

Last Tuesday he was allowed access to 50 wines that the FBI had confiscated from Kurniawan’s home when he was arrested in March last year.

Asked by district judge Richard Berman how many were likely to be fakes he replied that save for some “issues” with certain labels that would need further investigation: “I would say 80% of them are counterfeit.”

Unfortunately for Kurniawan, Collins was called as an expert witness for his defence.

The frank assessment apparently caused the defendant to, “put his hand to his mouth” and, “bow his head”.

Collins admitted to only having met Kurniawan on a couple of occasions and could not say whether he had faked the wines himself, a point on which his defence is likely to stress heavily.

As Berman remarked afterwards, Collins’ testimony though only served to strengthen the government’s case.

Kurniawan is facing up to 80 years in jail on two counts of fraud, one worth US$3 million for wire fraud he used to buy fine art and the other of mail fraud.

In addition he is being charged with wine fraud worth US$1.3 million.

The trial is one of the most high profile in recent wine trade history and has taken a number of surprising twists and turns with Kurniawan trying to discard the FBI evidence, change lawyers and even plead insanity before the latest unexpected turn of events.

Jury selection for the trial will take place today (Monday 9) in New York.

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