French police have broken up a major counterfeiting ring. But the criminals weren’t passing off fake bank notes or bearer bonds — they were selling counterfeit bottles of wine.
The scheme involved fake bottles of the prestigious Romanée-Conti Burgundy. The real stuff is one of the world’s rarest and most expensive wines. A case of 1990 Romanee-Conti went for $297,000 at auction in 2011. That’s over $24,000 a bottle!
So how did these wine counterfeiters get busted?
The suspects put as much care into counterfeiting wine bottles as they would currency. As the BBC reports:
French prosecutors say counterfeit labels were treated with wax to make them look older, and the result was so good that the bottles were near-perfect copies of the real thing.
For that level of care, the suspects obviously expected a substantial payout. And they got it.
Over 400 fake bottles have been discovered in the scheme, across six countries in Europe. French police suspect the fraudulent bottles have netted the suspects some 2 million euros ($2.75 million). That’s a bit over five grand a bottle.
France takes wine fraud seriously – they’ve already requested the extradition of a father-son team of wine merchants in Italy who seem to be the center of the sales operation, and French police have questioned or arrested several other suspects.
Luxury Goods: High Markup, High Motivation for Fraud
This particular vintage combined the high-end factor of a designer handbag (also frequently counterfeited), and the rarity of vintage collectibles.
The Romanée-Conti Burgundy is produced on a 4-acre estate in France. For comparison, that’s about 3 football fields. So their output is necessarily small, and their wine justifiably rare.
Make Sure You Get what you Pay For
If you happen to be in the market for a 6-figure case of wine, or similar goods where prestige is part of the price, doing your homework is particularly important. There may be no other market where going to a reputable seller is more important.
If you’ve been misled by a company selling high-end goods (or anything else, for that matter), let us know.
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