Henry Tang Ying-yen, a prominent Hong Kong businessman, politician and wine collector, has filed a lawsuit against Don Cornwell, a Los Angeles lawyer who has attracted attention for publicly challenging the authenticity of wines in auctions. Tang is suing Cornwell for libel, alleging that online posts Cornwell published questioning three lots of Burgundy consigned by Tang to a two-day Christie's sale last March injured his reputation. Tang is asking for unspecified damages and an injunction restraining Cornwell from repeating the allegations.
Tang is Hong Kong's former chief secretary for administration. In March 2013, Christie's Hong Kong conducted a two-day auction of Tang's extensive collection, bringing in $6.2 million. In the days before the sale, Cornwell raised questions about labels on bottles in three lots of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti wines in letters to Christie's and in posts on Wine Berserkers, an online message board. The lots included a methuselah of La Tâche 1971, a case of Montrachet 1978 and three bottles of Romanée-Conti 1959. Christie's held back the methuselah, but sold the other wines.
After the sale, Christie's and Tang stood by all three lots, saying that DRC had vouched for authenticity. “These allegations are totally unsubstantiated and false. It is hardly convincing for anyone who purports to know wine just by looking at the labels without going into their provenance,” said Tang.
Wine Spectator obtained a copy of Tang’s writ of summons, or complaint, which was filed in Hong Kong’s High Court Sept. 17. Cornwell was unaware of the suit. "Henry Tang wanted a public apology from me," he said. "But that would be an acknowledgment of fault, and I believe what I wrote is correct."
The complaint is stamped “Not for Service Out of the Jurisdiction,” so Cornwell cannot be served unless he goes to Hong Kong. A spokesman for Tang told Wine Spectator that lawyers will ask the court to have the summons served beyond Hong Kong.
Cornwell believes that Tang could not sue him for libel in the U.S. because his posts fall firmly in the realm of “protected opinion." “I did nothing wrong, and I certainly do not think that Henry Tang deliberately engaged in selling counterfeit wines,” said Cornwell.