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Suspected Bordeaux wine thieves arrested in police raids

French gendarmes have raided homes and buildings across France as part of an investigation into stolen Bordeaux wine, leading to 20 arrests.

Around 300 police have been involved in investigating a spate of burglaries of some of Bordeaux’s premier chateaux over the past nine months.

Their detective work, nicknamed operation ‘Cassevin‘, culminated in dawn raids near to the cities of Bordeaux, Paris, Toulouse and Bayonne on Monday (10 February).

Twenty men were arrested, including five suspected burglars and 15 others suspected of selling on stolen wines. They can be held for 96 hours before being either charged or released, said Ghislain Rety, head of the Gendarmerie in Gironde, which encompasses Bordeaux.

Some bottles of wine recovered in the raids are worth more than €1,000 each, Rety told decanter.com. He declined to name specific chateaux.

‘Many hundreds of bottles have been recovered, as well as about €12,000 in cash,’ he said, although it is thought stolen bottles have likely been mixed up with those legally obtained and these must now be sorted.

‘The burglaries took place all over the Bordeaux wine region,’ Rety said. When asked if there were bottles of grand or premier cru in the haul, he said ‘maybe’.

It is thought that most of the burglaries have taken place since June last year.

David Ornon, commercial director of Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte, a grand cru classe in Pessac-Leognan, is one of those watching this week’s events with interest.

‘We were actually burgled last summer and some Château Smith Haut Lafitte (Kosher) red 2009 was stolen,’ he told decanter.com. Smith Haut Lafitte 2009 is priced at more than £150-a-bottle at several merchants, and Ornon recalls that around one pallet-worth was taken.

‘It is an unbearable intrusion in your private space,’ he said. He is not yet sure whether Smith Haut-Lafitte wine has been recovered in this week’s raids. ‘We hope for more information soon.’

Bernard Farges, head of Bordeaux’s wine trade body, the CIVB, was quoted by Agence France Presse news agency as saying the number of burglaries at Bordeaux estates in recent months is unprecedented. A CIVB spokesperson declined to comment further.

Written by Chris Mercer & Sophie Kevany in Bordeaux

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