Koch gets $12m damages in fake wine fight

Wine bottles in caseFlorida billionaire Bill Koch has won a bitter legal dispute over the purchase of counterfeit vintage wines, winning $12m in damages.

A New York jury sided with Koch in the case, which revolved around the purchase of hundreds of thousands of dollars-worth of supposedly vintage Bordeaux wines from a company run by Eric Greenberg, which turned out on investigation to be fake.

Koch bought a couple of dozen bottles of the wines at up to $30,000 per bottle, and sued Greenberg to recover the cost of purchase, as well as damages and costs associated with investigating whether or not they were authentic. The court awarded Koch $380,000 in compensation plus $12m in punitive damages.

Greenberg - 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 - sold 17,000 bottles from his personal collection via auctioneer Zachys in 2005, netting millions of dollars.

The 72-year-old billionaire said he felt "over the moon" about the victory and would use the damages to help fund initiatives to try to drive fraud out of the vintage win sector, for example by setting up a website to expose and publicise counterfeits and their sellers.

"We weren't even expecting any damages and we got $12m," he said on the steps outside the Manhattan courtroom, adding that there is a "code of silence" in the industry that needs to be addressed. Koch has already resolved a lawsuit with Zachys, although the details of that 2011 settlement remain under wraps.

Meanwhile, Greenberg claimed during the trial he was unaware the disputed bottles of wine were not genuine at the time of sale, but did not dispute that they were indeed fake.

"Clearly, the verdict is a disappointment because I believed all the consigned wine to be authentic," he said in a statement.

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