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Kurniawan trial: Defence witness judges majority of trial exhibits fakes

A proposed expert witness for Rudy Kurniawan has told the judge for the alleged wine fraudster's upcoming trial that he believes most of the suspect wines put forward by the prosecution to be fakes.

Cornelius Robert Collins, who has more than 30 years of experience in fine wine authentication, will be allowed to give evidence at the trial of Kurniawan (pictured), which is due to start next week.

But, judge Richard Berman is reported to have said at the pre-trial hearing this week that Collins’ views appeared to support the state prosecution’s position, rather than that of the defence team that proposed him as an expert witness.

When asked what he thought of 50 suspect wines put forward as exhibits of evidence by the prosecution for the trial, Collins said that, at this stage, he thought 80% of them were counterfeit. He also said that he wouldn’t recommend buying any of the wines, not even the 20% that appeared genuine.

After the hearing, one of Kurniawan’s defence lawyers, Jerome Mooney, stressed to decanter.com that Collins had only made a preliminary assessment of the wines.

He added, ‘the bottles examined by our expert are not a representative sample of wines sold by Mr Kurniawan. Rather, they are the bottles that have been specifically selected by the government as exhibits in the trial’.

The prosecution has, inevitably, chosen exhibits that may best serve its case, he said. At the pre-trial hearing, Collins was also unable to access his detailed, bottle-by-bottle notes because of restrictions on using computers in the courtroom.

‘We only had a few hours for this hearing. This was the time to determine whether he was qualified to testify as an expert,’ Mooney said.

Kurniawan, who was known in the wine trade as Dr Conti for his apparent in-depth knowledge of the Burgundy’s Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, was charged in 2012 for attempting to sell more than US$1.3m of counterfeit wine between 2007 and 2012. He was also charged with ‘fraudulently obtaining millions of dollars in loans’.

His arrest and subsequent indictment has garnered significant coverage in the wine press and mainstream media. His trial is due to begin at the US District Court, Southern District of New York, on Monday 9 December.

Written by Chris Mercer

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