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US trial of star Indonesian wine dealer set to open

The trial of Indonesian-born wine dealer Rudy Kurniawan opens in New York with prosecutors accusing him of masterminding a wildly lucrative fraud which saw ordinary bottles passed off as expensive vintages
The trial of Indonesian-born wine dealer Rudy Kurniawan opens in New York with prosecutors accusing him of masterminding a wildly lucrative fraud which saw ordinary bottles passed off as expensive vintages

The trial of Indonesian-born wine dealer Rudy Kurniawan opens in New York on Monday with prosecutors accusing him of masterminding a wildly lucrative fraud which saw ordinary bottles passed off as expensive vintages.

The 37-year-old enjoyed a meteoric rise to become one of the world's most influential dealers of rare wines prior to his arrest, raking in millions of dollars which bankrolled a lavish lifestyle.

In fact, prosecutors say, Kurniawan's taste for the trappings of luxury -- he owned a fleet of vehicles including a Lamborghini, a large collection of contemporary artwork and several Philippe Patek watches -- was built on a lie.

Instead of rare vintages, Kurniawan was often selling store-bought wine which had been re-bottled using either fake labels or genuine ones from empty bottles.

One part of the prosecution's indictment involves an alleged attempt by Kurniawan to sell 97 bottles of what he said was wine from the acclaimed Domaine Ponsot winery in Burgundy, France at a 2008 auction in New York.

The sale, worth between $440,000 and $602,000, was abruptly halted at the last minute after problems with the lot became obvious. One bottle was dated 1929 when the domaine only began bottling in 1934.

He is also accused of selling counterfeit wines at two 2006 auctions in New York which netted him $10.6 million and $24.7 million respectively, a record.

One collector is alleged to have paid $12,925 for a fake bottle of Romanee-Conti.

Kurniawan denies charges of mail fraud and wire fraud. But in an indictment, prosecutors have alleged a mass of incriminating evidence was discovered during a 2012 raid on his home in Arcadia, a city on the outskirts of Los Angeles.

Prosecutors say Kurniawan's California home was a "counterfeit wine laboratory," where he "mixed and blended lower-priced wines so that they would mimic the taste and character of rare and far more expensive wines."

"Kurniawan poured his creations into empty bottles of rare and expensive wines," the charges read, and then "created a finished product by sealing the bottles with corks and by outfitting the bottles with counterfeit wine labels."

Kurniawan would sell the fake bottles at auctions and in direct sales to wealthy wine collectors, often alongside authentic bottles of rare wines, the prosecution alleged.

He did this "so that his fraud would go undetected and so that he could dimiss as spoiled bottles or aberrations any bottle of wine ultimately identified as counterfeit," the indictment said.

"Kurniawan rose to become one of the most prominent and prolific dealers in the United States of purportedly rare and expensive wine," according to his indictment.

Among the allegedly fake sales Kurniawan made was a double-magnum of a phony 1947 Chateau Petrus for $30,000 in 2005.

In February 2012, Kurniawan is alleged to have tried to sell a consignment of purportedly Domaine de la Romanee-Conti and Domaine Comte Georges de Vogue at auction in London, with an estimate of $889,750.

However, skeptics alerted the auction house and the lots were withdrawn from the sale. At his arrest the following month, the FBI discovered supplies of bottles, labels, corks and other gear said to have been used in preparing fake vintages -- minus the real wine.

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