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'Lies and greed' theme of US wine fraud trial

The entrance to Federal Court where the trial of wine dealer Rudy Kurniawan started on December 10, 2013 in New York
The entrance to Federal Court where the trial of wine dealer Rudy Kurniawan began December 10, 2013 in New York. Kurniawan is accused of masterminding a lucrative scheme to sell fake vintage wine in New York and London.

Prosecutors called wine dealer Rudy Kurniawan an arch liar motivated by greed who made millions selling fake vintages blended at home, summing up the fraud case against him Tuesday.

The 37-year-old defendant, once considered one of the top five collectors in the exclusive world of fine vintage wine, faces up to 40 years in jail if convicted of wire and postal fraud.

Prosecutor Joseph Facciponti summed up his case by describing Indonesian-born Kurniawan as "a prolific wine counterfeiter who in his home in California assembled everything he needed".

He said Kurniawan had a "magic cellar" -- his laboratory at the home he shared with his Chinese mother on the outskirts of Los Angeles, the place where he was arrested in March 2012.

"He sold wine to victims all over the world. For a while the magic worked, and he sold his fake wines for millions of dollars but there was no magic, only the defendant's lies," he said.

"Why did he tell all his lies? Because of greed that's what this case is about, the defendant's lies and his greed."

Facciponti reminded the 12-person jury of the evidence purportedly gathered from the home.

There were thousands of labels for the finest Burgundy and Bordeaux wines, full bottles waiting to be labeled and formulae on how to concoct vintage-tasting plonk from far cheaper wines.

The defense was scheduled to wrap up its arguments later Tuesday, allowing the jury to withdraw and deliberate.

Kurniawan, wearing a dark suit, on Tuesday remained impassive as throughout the now seven-day trial.

His meteroric rise during a 10-year career stemmed from his exceptional palate, but the court heard he has lived illegally in the United States since 2003 when his asylum bid was rejected.

Allegations against him first surfaced over an April 2008 auction in New York where he had offered 97 purported bottles of Domaine Ponsot for sale for between $440,500 and $602,000.

But French expert Laurent Ponsot of the acclaimed Domaine Ponsot winery became suspicious and flew to New York to ensure that auction house Acker Merrall & Condit withdrew the lot from sale.

Ponsot said he asked Kurniawan where he had got the Domaine Ponsot wine that he considered fake, but despite a series of follow-up emails and conversations got no clear answer.

After allegedly trying to sell more dubious wine at auction in London via an intermediary in 2012, Kurniawan was arrested at his home in Arcadia in March that year.

It is unclear how many bottles of fake blended wine the Indonesian-born dealer allegedly put on the market.

But Michael Egan, a wine expert, told the trial on Monday that the "vast majority" of 267 bottles allegedly owned by Kurniawan and that he examined had been counterfeit.

The defense has portrayed a young man who desperately wanted to fit into the richer, older world of rare wine collectors, and painted a picture of a man being made a scapegoat.

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