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Liber Pater owner guilty of fraud

The owner of boutique Graves winery, Liber Pater, has been fined and sentenced to a prison term for fraud after falsely claiming EU subsidies.

liber paterLoïc Pasquet was sentenced in Bordeaux yesterday (14 January) to 12 months in prison and handed a €30,000 fine. He was also mildly admonished by the INAO for apparently failing to comply with various AOC regulations.

The owner of one of Bordeaux’s most exclusive and expensive labels, Pasquet was accused of receiving subsidies from FranceAgrimer to the sum of nearly €600,000 between 2010 and 2012 on false pretences. The prosecution said he “knowingly deceived” FranceAgrimer by presenting false accounts beforehand in order to receive the funds and afterwards to cover up the fact he had not used the grants for their intended purpose; to promote his wines outside of the European Union.

Furthermore, it was stated that he had presented false invoices from his Chinese commercial partner based in Shanghai – a company called EuropAsia – knowing they didn’t present a truthful picture.

It was noted that €300,000 had been repaid to FranceAgrimer – by Pasquet’s family apparently – although another €230,000 from a grant given in 2012 is still outstanding.

Nor was the money apparently used to improve the winery or the wider business. The public prosecutors office expressed surprise at the contrast between the “supposed prestige” of Liber Pater’s chais and its “less than sparkling” reality, while the president of the tribunal drew the court’s attention to abandoned vineyards (as judged by unnamed “experts”) and his surprise that the headquarters of ‘Vignobles XO’, the Exploitation Agricole à Responsabilité Limitée (EARL) or parent company behind Liber Pater, was nothing more than a “simple letter box”.

Problems related to Liber Pater’s planting density and use of chaptalisation were also raised during the proceedings.

The prosecution alleged that Pasquet took had conceived of an idea to sell the wine for “100 times its value” to wealthy foreigners but needed the capital to develop it.

Pasquet’s defence stated he had been taken in by his “crook” of a partner who merely wished to “get his hands on” a shipment of Liber Pater and that he had been let down by the “incompetence” of the accounting firm he used.

Pasquet took over the Graves property in 2005 and quickly shot to fame for his use of biodynamics, extremely low yields (his annual production was typically just 200 or so cases – all of which were sold abroad) and huge prices.

In 2010 he began planting varieties such as Castets, Mancin and Pardotte that were common in Bordeaux 200 years ago, as part of his stated desire to bring back the “forgotten taste” of pre-phylloxera Bordeaux wines.

Although the wine was classified as ‘Vin de France’ it is among the most expensive in Bordeaux selling for around €3,000 a bottle (the 2007 costs €4,000) , principally in markets such as China and Russia. In 2011 he was hailed as the “discovery of the year” by La Revue du vin de France.

In November last year some 500 vines of Castets at the property were vandalised, the stocks cut off at the base. The two cases were not treated as linked in any way.

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