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Prosecution possible for Uvine directors

There may be criminal prosecutions following the collapse of Uvine in September.

The web-based fine wine exchange collapsed in September this year with losses of nearly £10m.

Administrators have reported the directors’ conduct to the Prosecutions Section of the Department for Trade and Industry (Dti). They warn that ‘there could be potential claims against the directors for misfeasance, preference, wrongful trading and even fraudulent trading if criminal intent could be shown.’

The directors are Christopher Burr, chairman, Frank Hohmann III, Paul Rogers and Jonathan Perratt. It has not been established which charges will be levelled at which individuals, or if they will all be charged. The Dti may decide that no charges will be levelled at all.

Among the nine ‘misconduct issues’ cited are en primeur monies not passed onto Bordeaux merchants, wine apparently sold without permission, a trust account set up and not used properly and the likelihood that Uvine traded while insolvent.

Also that ‘during 2006, it appears that Christopher Burr had withdrawn funds from the company that fully repaid his loan to the company, (£68,000), in preference to other creditors. In addition, by 31 August 2006 it appears that he had an overdrawn loan account of £102,000.’

Burr emphatically denies any wrongdoing in terms of withdrawing funds.

‘In absolutely no way should it be implied that I was withdrawing cash from the business for my own purposes or benefit,’ he told decanter.com.

‘A very large part of the withdrawals were to repay loans for Uvine guaranteed by me, and the lawyers’ fees associated with this. Other completely legitimate withdrawals from my loan account balance were in lieu of non claimable business expenses, and minimal salary, as I have not drawn any salary from Uvine for over two years.’

Since it was set up in October 1999 Uvine has racked up losses of £9.98m, according to the administrators’ report to creditors sent out at the end of last week.

Nearly £3m was lost by 2000 and the losses continued to accumulate: nearly £1 million in 2001, £500,000 in 2005 and £400,000 in the eight months of this year before the company went into administration. Clients of the wine exchange are owed £1,076,734 with an additional £551,810 owed on 2003 and 2005 en primeur purchases.

The joint administrators, Graham Wolloff and John Munn, are hoping to sell the company under a Company Voluntary Arrangement.

There are two interested parties. One is Trieste Direct Investments Ltd in which Uvine directors Paul Rogers and Jonathan Perratt have an interest, while the other is an unnamed and unconnected party. A creditors’ meeting has been fixed for 4 December.

Written by Jim Budd

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