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Three given suspended sentences for massive Champagne fraud

Three former managers of the Esterlin Champagne co-operative have been given eight-month suspended prison sentences and €2,000 fines for selling fake vintage Champagne.

Between 2002 and 2005, Patrick Jean, the former president of Esterlin, commercial director Lysiane Géraudel and chef de Cave Franck Zehner sold 426,000 bottles of fake vintage champagne to the Ed supermarket group, a subsidiary of the Carrefour group.

The three were first indicted in 2005, as Decanter.com reported.

The Mancy-based co-operative also has to pay a fine of €20,000, the court in Chalon decided before Christmas.

The court has additionally levied a fine of €2.841m payable to French customs and excise

However the Ed supermarket group, which sought €2m in damages, is understood to be unhappy with its award of €5,000.

The CIVC, Champagne’s governing body, also brought a civil action against Esterlin, communications director Thibaut Le Mailloux confirmed.

It did this ‘as soon as the case was brought to the attention of the criminal court by the fraud squad,’ he said. ‘This is what we systematically do when such cases – albeit rare – occur. This shows our strong determination to take action against any company or individual whose criminal actions directly or indirectly damage the reputation of Champagne.’ It is unclear whether further action will be taken against the co-op.

During the trial Zehner said in a signed statement read out in court, ‘Since I arrived in 2000, there has never been a true vintage [Champagne] sold to Ed, never.’

The co-defendents claimed not to know what went on in the cellar and sought to blame Zehner for the fraud and other problems at the co-op. However the judge suggested Zehner would have had no interest in organising the fraud on his own. If that had been the case, he quipped, ‘We are here in the presence of a crime without a motive.’

When the current Esterlin president Eric Potié, who is also president of the Federation of Cooperatives of Champagne (FCVC), was asked by the judge if these practices had disappeared at the co-op, his response was: ‘In my position, I am unable to know exactly what is in the cellar, but it seems to be correct.’

Written by Giles Fallowfield

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