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Kurniawan trial: Fine wine expert labels Rudy wines fakes

An expert in authenticating fine wines, Michael Egan, has told jurors that nearly all the wines that he has examined from defendant Rudy Kurniawan's home are fake.

Defendant Rudy Kurniawan in court (Image credit: Elizabeth Williams)

As anticipated following a pretrial hearing, Egan took to the witness stand and rubbished the authenticity of the 267 wines seized from Kurniawan’s Los Angeles home that he has been asked to examine.

‘Almost all, with very few exceptions, of these bottles are counterfeit,’ he told jurors in the US District Court, Southern Dictrict of New York, where Kurniawan is facing a charge of making, selling and attempting to sell counterfeit fine wine worth around $1.3m.

Egan, who worked at Sotheby’s wine department from 1981 to 2005, also told of how he was hired in 2006 to examine the authenticity of wines bought by two clients from an Acker Merrall & Condit auction in January 2006.

He testified that he believed 39 lots sold at that auction were counterfeit. Those lots sold for a total $1.29m.

‘Since I started doing my fine-wine expert business, out of the thousands of bottles that I checked, I found that 1,433 are counterfeit and, off those, 1,077, or 75%, came from Rudy Kurniawan.

‘And the people who bought the most fakes from Rudy Kurniawan were Michael Fascitelli and William Koch.’

However, Egan defended auction houses’ policies in general. ‘I think the auction houses were checking wines. It was not just the auction houses where counterfeit wines were found.’

Much of Egan’s testimony involved describing at length the ways that counterfeiters may produce fake labels or ‘freshen up’ wines by adding a more recent vintage to an older one. He agreed with the prosecution’s argument that Kurniawan was producing counterfeit wine out of his own home.

During the sixth day’s session, the court also heard from special agent James Grathwohl, who confirmed that Kurniawan, Indonesian citizen, is ‘under an order of removal from the US and subject to removal’.

This has been the case since 2003, although the defence argued that the government did not do everything possible to make their client aware of the situation.

The defence has continued to argue that Kurniawan has been caught up in a bigger problem of fine wine counterfeiting.

The trial continues.

Written by Chris Mercer

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