Swiss Probe Fine Wine Scam That May Have Targeted Dead Chef

  • Four people under investigation by Valais prosecutor
  • Probe for possible fraud has been underway since July

Swiss prosecutors are investigating four people behind an alleged vintage wine scam that may have ensnared Benoit Violier, a Michelin three-starred chef who committed suicide last week.

Sebastien Bonvin, the main shareholder of Private Finance Partners SA, and three others are under investigation for “infractions contre la patrimoine” -- a class of offenses that can include fraud, Nicolas Dubuis, the chief prosecutor for the Swiss canton of Valais, said Monday in an interview.

Private Finance Partners, which filed for bankruptcy in November, allegedly sold the vintage wines worth as much as 36,000 Swiss francs ($36,367) a bottle to restaurateurs including Violier before balking on delivering them, according to a report in Bilan magazine. Violier was chef of the restaurant l’Hotel de Ville in the town of Crissier outside Lausanne, where the prix fixe menu costs 380 francs. It was named the world’s finest dining establishment by La Liste, which ranked the globe’s top 1,000 restaurants.

Violier’s suicide last week shocked the restaurant world as only three years earlier he had become head chef of the restaurant that he joined in 1996. He apprenticed alongside chefs including Philippe Rochat, who were also victims of the wine scam according to Bilan. Rochat, a one-time owner of the Hotel-de-Ville, died in a bike accident last year.

Violier isn’t accused of wrongdoing in the probe, which has been going on since at least July, Dubuis said. The restaurant was closed Monday and no one answered the phone for possible comment.

There are no phone numbers or websites available for Private Finance Partners. A man who answered the phone for the only Sebastien Bonvin in the Swiss telephone directory said it was the wrong number.

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