One prosecution witness in the trial of Rudy Kurniawan has told of how the alleged wine fraudster tried to consign wines to auction anonymously through him, in a fifth day of the trial that also saw billionaire wine collector and counterfeit hunter Bill Koch take to the witness stand.
Defendant Rudy Kurniawan in court (Image credit: Elizabeth Williams)
Antonio Castanos Beltran, of Guido’s restaurant in Los Angeles, told jurors that Kurniawan had asked him to consign wines on his behalf ‘several times’ around 2006.
Beltran said that he sometimes took a 5% cut of any proceeds and made $400,000 from the arrangement. State prosecutors suggested that Kurniawan asked the restaurant owner to consign wines at auction as a tactic for Kurniawan to cover his tracks after some people had begun questioning his credentials.
‘You understood that he did not want you to tell anyone that his name was associated with these wines?’ prosecution lawyer Joseph Facciponti asked Beltran. ‘Yes,’ was the reply.
Of the three witnesses who gave evidence on Friday (13 December), the most well-known was billionaire collector Bill Koch, owner of Oxbow Carbon, and who has conducted a six-year crusade against fine wine counterfeits – a probe that has led to several lawsuits.
‘No one likes to be conned or cheated,’ Koch told the court. He said, for Burgundy alone, he spent $2.1m on 219 bottles that had been consigned by Kurniawan. The prosecution showed two purportedly counterfeit wines from Koch’s own collection – a 1947 Petrus and a 1934 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti – which he bought at an Acker Merrall & Condit auction in 2006. The wines were believed to have been consigned by Kurniawan.
In total, Koch estimated that he could have up to 500 fakes in his collection, accounting for just 1% of the volume of his library but around a quarter of the value.
He told jurors of how he employed experts in several areas, from glass to glue, to try to ascertain which of his wines were counterfeit. He also took wines to the chateaux that supposedly made them.
Kurniawan’s defence team seized on Koch’s testimony to add weight to their own claims that Kurniawan is merely one individual among many caught up in the counterfeit fine wine trade.
‘I got so many fakes wines, I can’t keep them all in my head,’ Koch said when under cross-examination.
The trial continues.
Written by Chris Mercer