Bordeaux awoke to a shock last week when a yet-to-be-identified winery owner was arrested, along with 20 co-conspirators, in a raid by French gendarmes.
Authorities first caught whiff of the alleged crime ring this past September, when they stumbled upon wine-counterfeiting equipment, including fake labels, during an unrelated drug investigation. A month later, fake Bordeaux wine surfaced in the Sarthe region. Gendarmes were able to link these clues to a complaint made months earlier by the owner of a château in the Médoc, who discovered his wine was being counterfeited.
By November, the gendarmes' special wine squad (aka the vin-vestigators?!) were on the case. According to the prosecutor’s office, they found evidence of "a large-scale fraud organized by the owner of a vineyard in the Médoc also having the status of a négociant."
The reported scam involved sourcing inexpensive wine from other regions of France as well as from Spain and bottling it as prestigious Bordeaux château wines at suspiciously low prices. The wines were bottled at night and delivered on weekends so as not to attract the attention of neighbors.
According to law enforcement, the culprits "developed a network of official and unofficial distributors, made up of companies, retirees [and] self-employed entrepreneurs" across France. The wines were sold to supermarkets and abroad via intermediaries engaged in "illegal manipulations."
The investigation is ongoing, but the prosecutor's office estimates the fraud to involve several hundred thousand bottles of wine. The ill-gotten gains were allegedly used to fund a lavish lifestyle, with money laundered through renovation projects paid for in cash. The investigation and apprehension of the alleged perps involved more than 100 gendarmes across seven regions of France.
The château owner and three accomplices were charged and released on bails ranging from €20,000 to €50,000. They have been indicted on charges of organized crime fraud and money laundering, deception regarding merchandise and falsification of foodstuffs.
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