Billionaire fake wine lawsuit set to start

Empty bottlesA counterfeit wine lawsuit brought by one of America’s richest men is set to start in New York  today.

The billionaire behind the suit, Bill Koch, has spent the last seven years pursuing the case after coming to believe some wine he bought for up to $30,000 a bottle in the mid-2000s is fake.

Koch is seeking recovery of the cost of purchasing the wine (estimated at around $350,000), as well as damages and costs associated with investigating whether they were genuine or fake.

The defendant in the case - Eric Greenberg - is a California entrepreneur and former billionaire who made his fortune as an Internet tycoon before the dotcom bubble burst, and now runs a health food company called Beautifull.

Koch's case alleges that Greenberg either knew or should have known that the wines that were acquired - which included clarets from the 19th century - were not genuine. While the defence dispute the details, even they acknowledge that counterfeit wine is a major problem.

"There is no question that anybody with an extensive collection of wines and who buys from auctions may have inauthentic wines. Every collector has fake bottles in his collection,” the lawyer for the defence, Bill Cunningham, told the Guardian.

Koch has already turned down a settlement offer equivalent to the cost of the purchased wines and the case is being framed by others as a personal quest. "He’s like Ahab," Cunningham said. If the ultimate goal is to clean up the wine sector, a criminal case due to start later this year is also relevant.

It's estimated that Greenberg has spent $3m on his defence, while Koch is rumoured to have spent $10m pursuing the case.

The case follows the arrest of prominent wine dealer Rudy Kurniawan for allegedly heading a fake wine laboratory. Kurniawan is accused of mixing cheap wines to mimic the taste of costly labels, before pouring the creations into genuine bottles sourced from a New York restaurant.

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