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ASC denies threat of fines under Chinese customs clampdown

Chinese importer ASC Fine Wines has strongly denied it is facing hefty fines and the possible deportation of its directors for underpayment of duties.

In an article published on jancisrobinson.com, wine consultant Simon Tam, director of the International Wine Centre in Shanghai and Hong Kong, said ASC ‘is looking at a fine rumoured to be in the neighbourhood of €5m, and the potential deportation of some of its top executives…’

According to Tam – who is not involved in selling wine – customs are cracking down on the ‘subtle manipulation’ of declared wine value, and the ‘common practice’ of undervaluing wine by up to 50%.

ASC spokesman Matthew Gong told decanter.com the report is ‘based on rumour and lacks any evidence to support the allegation’.

The mention of a €5m fine and possible deportation is ‘absolutely false’, he said.

Gong added that the inspection was routine: ‘Customs do it every year. Sometimes it is textiles, sometimes it is wine, sometimes another industry.’

In a statement ASC said it is ‘cooperating fully and managing partner Don St Pierre Jr and vice president Ms Carrie Xuan are with Customs inquiries personnel now.’

ASC is China’s leading importer of fine wines, representing more than 800 wines and 80 producers in 13 countries. Don St Pierre Jr featured in Decanter’s 2007 Power List.

The statement added that ‘the value of ASC’s imported wine declarations under review is approximately 1.5 days business for ASC’.

Gong clarified this figure by saying, ‘1.5 days business simply means it is not a big deal.’

Another major importer, Shanghai- and Hong Kong-based importers Summergate Fine Wines, said it could not comment on the situation.

Meanwhile China industry insider Jim Boyce said on his Grape Wall of China blog that the investigation could be due to a number of factors, chief among them the abolition of wine taxes in Hong Kong prompting the mainland authorities to warn importers to abide by the law.

It could also be ‘part of China’s shift in numerous sectors toward an increasingly rules-oriented environment, a situation that would be bound to impact other sectors.’

Written by Adam Lechmere

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