Sour grapes as buyers fork out $1.3m for fake vintage wines

A US wine merchant has been convicted of conning aficionados into paying millions for fake bottles of some of the world’s rarest vintages.

California-based Rudy Kurniawan remained expressionless as the verdict was given in a New York court.

Prosecutors said he put on a “magic show” to fool buyers into thinking he had access to the wines but made the fake vintages in his kitchen.

The Indonesian-born defendant was arrested last year. He was accused of selling more than $1.3m of counterfeit bottles to other wealthy collectors.

Prosecutors said he spent the money on a lavish lifestyle in suburban Los Angeles that included luxury cars, designer clothing and fine food and drinks

His lawyer claimed Kurniawan was a scapegoat.

Kurniawan faces up to 40 years in jail.

A jury took less than two hours to return a guilty verdict on two counts of wire and postal fraud against the 37-year-old, once considered one of the top five wine collectors in the world.

Prosecutors described him as “a prolific wine counterfeiter” and an arch liar motivated by greed, a man who made millions of dollars selling bogus vintages blended in his kitchen laboratory.

The defence portrayed a young man who desperately wanted to fit in to the richer, older world of rare wine collectors, and who tried to cover up the forgeries of others. He was a scapegoat, his lawyers argued.

Already in custody since his arrest in March 2012, he will be sentenced at a later date.

The court heard how he rose rapidly to the top of his profession thanks to his exceptional palate, capable of identifying and memorising the world’s finest wines.

But prosecutors say his penchant for fast cars, designer watches and contemporary art collections was built on a lie.

They say he sold at auction and direct to collectors more than 1,000 fake bottles blended in his kitchen or “magic cellar” to masquerade as vintage wines worth thousands.

“It is an enormous amount. This was an operation on a massive scale,” said prosecutor Joseph Facciponti.

“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 his lies,” he said.

Thousands of labels for the finest Burgundy and Bordeaux wines were found in the home he shared with his Chinese mother in Arcadia, on the outskirts of Los Angeles.


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