Auction house Acker Merrall & Condit has agreed to pay a lump sum to billionaire wine collector Bill Koch and change its business practices in order to settle legal action over alleged counterfeit fine wines.
Acker Merrall & Condit’s CEO, John Kapon, at an auction in Hong Kong
Neither Koch nor Acker would disclose the fee that the New York-based auction house will hand over, but Koch said it was a ‘significant payment’.
The out-of-court settlement ends six years of Koch’s legal action against Acker, which he has accused of selling more than 200 bottles of counterfeit wine at auction.
Acker sold many bottles consigned by convicted wine fraudster Rudy Kurniawan, although the auction house has always denied wrongdoing.
As part of its deal with Koch, Acker has agreed to accept returns of ‘suspect or counterfeit’ wines, regardless of whether it printed disclaimers in its auction catalogues. The term ‘caveat emptor’, or buyer beware, is a common feature of auction houses’ pre-sale brochures.
Acker will also submit all of its pre-1970 vintage wines to expert authentication.
‘This is a big victory for consumers,’ said Koch, who has spent more than $25m chasing alleged counterfeiters and was recently filmed choking back tears during a television documentary on the number of purported fake wines in his home cellar.
‘I am pleased that the auction industry is changing the way business is conducted. Acker, Merrall & Condit was by its own account the largest reseller of vintage wines. Consumers will now have more protection from unscrupulous collectors as a result of this settlement. We have cast a bright light on a dark industry.’
Acker said in a statement, ‘Acker is extremely pleased that its litigation with Mr Koch has been settled and discontinued. We look forward to continuing to focus on our customers and clients.’
Koch still has a lawsuit pending against Kurniawan, who is due to be sentenced on 24 July.
Previously, Koch has prevailed in legal actions against wine dealer Hardy Rodenstock and wine collector Eric Greenberg. He also settled out-of-court with Royal Wine Merchants, which is now banned from selling any wine prior to the 1976 vintage.
Written by Chris Mercer