U.S. Can Take Testimony in France for Fake-Wine Trial

U.S. prosecutors won permission to videotape three winemakers’ testimony in France for the Sept. 9 trial of alleged wine counterfeiter Rudy Kurniawan because the harvest will keep them from traveling to New York.

U.S. District Judge Richard Berman in New York granted the government’s request after prosecutors said they need the expert testimony of Aubert de Villaine, co-owner and co-director of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti; Christophe Roumier, head winemaker at Domaine Georges Roumier; and Laurent Ponsot, head of Domaine Ponsot. Kurniawan, a California wine-seller, is accused of counterfeiting more than $1.3 million in phony wines, including those purportedly made by the three French vintners.

The winemakers are French citizens whom the government can’t compel to come to the U.S. to testify, and while they were willing to participate in a July trial, the harvest keeps them from being at one in September, the U.S. said.

“Messers. Ponsot, Roumier and de Villaine are the heads of their respective domaines with unique knowledge about the wines that the defendant is alleged to have counterfeited,” assistant U.S. attorneys Jason Hernandez and Joseph Facciponti said in court papers. “All three witnesses will present highly relevant and necessary testimony that no other witness can offer.”

84 Bottles

Kurniawan was indicted last year and accused of consigning at least 84 counterfeit bottles of Burgundy to a New York auction house. The Indonesian national allegedly had a “laboratory for creating counterfeit wine” in his Arcadia, California, home, including thousands of printed wine labels for many of the world’s most expensive wines, such as Domaine de la Romanee-Conti and Chateau Petrus.

Prosecutors said Ponsot’s testimony is expected to include that purported bottles of pre-1982 Clos St. Denis from Domaine Ponsot that Kurniawan consigned for sale at auction “are fakes because 1982 was the first vintage of Clos St. Denis wine produced by Domaine Ponsot.”

Ponsot will also testify about a conversation he had with Kuriniawan in which he claimed he’d provided Ponsot with the name and phone number of a man in Indonesia “who the defendant claimed sold him the fake Ponsot wines.”

‘Dead Ends’

Ponsot will testify that the two telephone numbers Kurniawan gave him of the alleged consignor were “dead ends” that produced no information, prosecutors alleged.

Roumier is expected to testify that a purported 1923 bottle of Domaine Roumier that he tasted and was consigned by Kurniawan was “counterfeit” adding, “Mr. Roumier is expected to testify that the wine is fake because Domaine Roumier did not start making that particular wine until 1952,” Hernandez and Facciponti said.

DeVillaine who regularly inspects his wines would testify that purported bottles of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Kuriniawan sold are also counterfeit.

“Possibly all three witnesses will be unavailable to testify in September because the trial date coincides with the harvest in Burgundy,” prosecutors said. “The government would be unfairly prejudiced if it was not allowed to present the testimony of Messers. Ponsot, Roumier and del Villaine to the jury because no one else possesses the intimate knowledge that these witnesses have about their respective domaines.”

William Koch, a billionaire collector who last month won a $12 million verdict alleging another consignor sold him counterfeit wines, also sued Kurniawan in Los Angeles. That case is pending.

The criminal case is U.S. v. Kurniawan, 12-cr-00376, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).