Judge throws out most of Koch's fake wine damages

Vintage wine bottleA US federal judge has ruled that William Koch should only get a fraction of the $12m in punitive damages awarded last year in a lawsuit involving counterfeit wines.

The award has been reduced to just over $700,000 by US District Judge Paul Oetken, who said the original figure was "exorbitant" at more than 33 times the $350,000 or so awarded in compensatory damages against the defendant, California entrepreneur and former billionaire Eric Greenberg.

The case revolved around the sale to Koch of a few cases of Bordeaux wine - at an average of around $30,000 per bottle - that was subsequently deemed to be counterfeit.

In his summation, Oetken agreed that Greenberg has "shamelessly defrauded" customers, but punitive damages of two times compensatory damages would be sufficient as the harm caused was "strictly economic".

The ruling has immediately come under criticism, with some observers suggesting that it indicates counterfeiting and fraud should be considered less serious if the victims are wealthy. Koch had suggested he would use the damages to help fund initiatives to try to drive fraud out of the vintage wine sector, including setting up a website to expose and publicise counterfeits and their sellers.

The judge also denied Koch's requests to recoup the almost $8m he spent on legal fees in the long-running case. Greenberg has always maintained he believed the wines he sold were authentic.

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