French fraud police have frozen ownership of 10 Bordeaux châteaux believed to be connected to the same Chinese investor as part of an ongoing investigation.
- Anti-fraud authority confirms that ownership of châteaux has been frozen
- Day-to-day operations at affected wineries believed to be continuing and wines not involved
- Case relates to funds used by China’s Haichang Group to purchase estates
France’s Central Office for the Repression of Major Financial Crime (OCRGDF) has frozen ownership of 10 vineyards and châteaux in Bordeaux, confirmed a spokesperson for Bordeaux’s organised crime department (the DIJP, or Direction interrégionale de la police judiciaire).
It was understood that all estates belonged to China’s Haichang Group, although the DIJP spokesperson would not confirm the names of the estates seized. The DIJP managed the investigation and seizure with the OCRGDF.
Day-to-day business at the properties has continued as normal and the wines themselves were not part of the investigation, the DIJP spokesperson said.
The seizures, which took place over the last six months, follow a four-year investigation in France into possible financial irregularities related to the funds used to buy the properties. The investigation into the source of the funds focused particularly on the misuse of public funds and money laundering.
The French police investigation was set to be examined by a judge and a decision on the future of the confiscated estates is expected to be made in the coming months.
Asked how the investigation began, the spokesperson said it followed reports of financial issues with Haichang Group in China. A report released in 2014 by China’s National Audit Office (NAO) accused Haichang Holdings Ltd. (based in Dalian) of misspending $43 million in public funds. However, no formal charges were known to have been brought against the firm.
Haichang, founded in Dalian in China’s Liaoning province, owns around 20 Bordeaux wine estates.
In 2015, Decanter’s Jane Anson reported that Haichang Group-owned properties in Bordeaux were producing an estimated two million bottles per year across 60 labels, much of which is sold in China.
Christophe Chateau, a spokesperson for Bordeaux’s wine bureau (CIVB), told Decanter.com, ‘The subject of the investigation is not wine, it is finance. Therefore the CIVB is not involved. We are monitoring the situation, though.
‘We are always very happy when Chinese buyers come to Bordeaux and when they buy châteaux. It raises the image of Bordeaux in China. But, if the money is not clean, then the two governments, Chinese and French, need to investigate. I have never, in my time in Bordeaux, heard of anything like this happening before.’
A spokesperson for Haichang Group could not be immediately reached.