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Four wine dealers imprisoned for fraud

Four wine dealers who targeted American investors and conned them out of over £1m received sentences of up to four and a half years last week.

Following a trial of more than three months, three people were found guilty of operating a fraudulent wine investment business that mainly targeted the American medical community.

The fourth defendant, Stephanie Callebaut, pleaded guilty just as the trial got underway at Southwark Crown Court. The case was brought by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO).

Shameen Suleman, a director of Vintage Wines of St Albans (VWSA), was imprisoned for 3½ years. Callebaut, a fellow director, was given a 12-month sentence. The other two defendants, who received sentences of 4½ and 2½ years, cannot be named for legal reasons.

Using high-pressure sales techniques VWSA offered wines that had no investment potential while promising big profits quickly. Wines offered included a Bordeaux Supérieur and several Italian wines, some from Tuscany.

VWSA only bought a small proportion of the wines they sold. None of the wine suppliers had any involvement in the fraud, which brought in more than £1m. One American doctor alone invested around US$500,000 (£277,336).

Vintage Wines of St Albans was a subsidiary of Vintage Hallmark plc, which the SFO is continuing to investigate.

Written by Jim Budd

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