Billionaire William Koch of the energy company Oxbow Corporation filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court last Thursday against Rudy Kurniawan, an Indonesia-born wine collector, accusing him of multiple counts of wine fraud.
The lawsuit cites five bottles of Bordeaux and Burgundy – including a US$30,000 bottle of Petrus 1947 and two bottles of DRC Romanée Conti 1934 for $25,850 – which Koch had purchased from the American auction house Acker, Merrall & Condit in 2005 and 2006, and which he later learned originated from Kurniawan as counterfeit bottles.
To discover the original source of the bottles, Koch representatives tried to speak with Kurniawan – described in the lawsuit as a ‘youthful, ultra-wealthy foreigner who spent aggressively at wine auctions’ – on several occasions last year, the lawsuit claims, but Kurniawan never answered.
The lawsuit also claims Kurniawan, who the Los Angeles Times reported to be spending US$1m a month on wine and ‘US$35.4m of wine at two Acker Merrall auctions in the 2006 time frame alone’ sold wine at auctions under a pseudonym.
‘Buying and selling the same wine at the same time could also be an effort to manipulate wine prices, a scheme to pump up the price and then dump wine into the inflated market,’ the lawsuit says.
Oxbow Corporation spokesman Brad Goldstein told decanter. com, ‘This is a very ripe story and it is continuing to unfold, because his wine is continuing to appear at auction throughout the world and its provenance should be checked very carefully.’
‘We’ve only identified five [bottles] right now,’ he added.
Neither Acker Merrall representatives nor Mr. Kurniawan could be immediately reached for comment.
This is the second time that Koch has been involved in a lawsuit with Acker Merrall & Condit.
A case filed on 23 April 2008 in New York State Supreme Court charged the Manhattan auction house and retailer with misrepresentation in fine and rare wines Koch bought at auction for a total of US$77,925 (£39,242).
The Florida collector is also involved in lawsuits involving the so-called Jefferson bottles. See ‘Related stories’ above.
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Written by Panos Kakaviatos