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Laboure-Roi directors detained in wine fraud probe

Four directors of Maison Labouré-Roi, the 180-year-old Burgundy negociant house, have been accused of various counts of wine fraud.

Police in Dijon detained the directors this week following an 18-month probe that has also involved the National Fraud Office (DGCCRF). Several computers, and dozens of files, have been seized from the firm’s Nuits-Saint-Georges premises.

Labouré-Roi, owned by Cottin Freres since 1974, is the largest supplier of Burgundy wines to airlines. It has also supplied major retailers, deriving 50% of net sales from exports, and works with hundreds of Burgundy growers.

Public Prosecutor Eric Lallement said during a press conference held in Dijon last night (13 June) that the fraud office was first alerted due to a disparity in figures between what the company was actually bottling and what it should have been, given the yields declared at harvest time. ‘It was as if the company was managing to vinify 100% of its musts, which is impossible,’ he said.

On investigating this, he said police found evidence of several specific frauds: firstly bypassing legal blending limits, affecting every level of the production from Grand Cru, Premier Cru and Village appellations, and adding table wine to wine musts to top up the ‘angel’s share’, Lallement said. He said the suspected fraud related to 500,000 bottles of wine, worth €2.7m in sales.

The second fraud detailed was over wine quality and labeling. ‘When the company needed to fulfil an order of a wine that it had run out of, it swapped labels with other wines,’ said Lallement. The magnitude of this fraud is estimated to be around 1.1m bottles.

‘With the number of bottles in question,’ said Lallement, ‘this can not have been simply a casual mistake.’ However, he cautioned that it is early days in the investigation and that none of the suspects has been formally charged.

The oenologist, the administrator, and now the two owners, Armand and Louis Cottin (aged 82 and 83), were all arrested but have reportedly since been released. The fraud is believed to have taken place between 2005 and 2009.

Emmanuel Touraille, Labouré Roi’s lawyer, told local paper Le Bien Public that the firm was fully cooperating. ‘This is now three years on from the original report,’ he was quoted as saying. ‘Yes there were some things that were not correct at the time, but we have rectified them all. The firm has fully cooperated with the investigations.’

Several retailers are thought to be following the case. In the UK, a spokesperson for Tesco told Decanter.com that ‘Tesco is aware of the situation but until we receive further information we are unable to comment’.

Labouré-Roi and Cottin Freres could not be immediately reached for comment.

Written by Jane Anson

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