Koch case against Christie's dropped

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  • Monday 21 March 2011

A US court has dismissed a lawsuit filed by collector William Koch against Christie's.

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In the case, which was filed in March 2010 in the US District Court in New York, Koch claimed Christie’s knowingly sold him a counterfeit bottle of 1870 Lafite for US$4,200.

Now US district judge Barbara Jones has dismissed the suit, which included claims of fraud, civil conspiracy and aiding and abetting.

Jones ruled that Koch knew the bottle was counterfeit before he bought it. She rejected Koch’s argument that he bought in the bottle in order to prove it was counterfeit.

‘Here the cause of his injuries was not Christie’s’ misleading statements but plaintiff’s desire to gather evidence against Christie’s,’ Jones said.

Koch has alleged in this and other lawsuits that Christie’s, and other auction houses, are negligent in failing to ensure that bottles auctioned were genuine, and that they turn a blind eye to suspected wine fraud.

‘Because Christie’s has inspected so many wine cellars and has examined so many bottles of wine, it knows how to identify counterfeit wine’, Koch said.

‘Christie’s also has unique access to facts and circumstances that might call into question the authenticity of specific wines it handles’, he added.

Koch is or has been involved in a number of different lawsuits against individuals – such as wine collector Hardy Rodenstock – and auction houses and wine merchants such as Christie’s, Zachys and the Chicago Wine Company.

Many of the cases involve the now-notorious ‘Jefferson Bottles’ – bottles of Lafite and other fine Bordeaux supposedly belonging to Thomas Jefferson and inscribed ‘Th.J’.

In January this year, auctioneers Zachys, and Chicago Wine Company settled a similar lawsuit out of court – agreeing at the same time to amend the disclaimers in their catalogues.

Koch had filed the lawsuit against Zachys in 2007, asserting that in a 2005 Zachys auction he spent US$370,000 for what he thought were rare Bordeaux wines, but he later found that some bottles were fake.

Koch’s spokesman said at the time that Koch was motivated by a desire to reform the wine auction industry and ‘make it more transparent’.

Michael Broadbent, former head of Christie’s wine department and now a consultant, told Decanter.com he was delighted by the verdict.

‘Koch’s claims were outrageous, and without an iota of supporting evidence.’

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