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Yquem Fraud Case Should be Heard in Britain, Say Lawyers

One of the wines at the heart of the case is a 1787 Château d'Yquem
© Wine-Searcher | One of the wines at the heart of the case is a 1787 Château d'Yquem
Lawyers for a wine merchant accused of fraud say the case should be heard in Britain, rather than the U.S.

A British wine merchant accused of selling a fake bottle of Château d’Yquem for almost $100,000 has petitioned a Georgia judge to dismiss the case, saying it should be heard in Britain.

Antique Wine Company (AWC) founder and chief executive Stephen Williams sought to have a U.S. federal judge dismiss a lawsuit filed by Atlanta wine collector Julian LeCraw, who is seeking more than $25 million in compensation over an allegedly fraudulent sale of old Bordeaux wines.

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Lawyers for the London-based merchant filed papers late on Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. The submission said that the lawsuit by Atlanta real estate baron Julian LeCraw stemmed from his inability to “fully liquidate his vast collection of French wine (reputed to exceed 30,000 bottles) and his attempt to fully recoup his ill-timed purchases by claiming the wine he purchased almost a decade ago is counterfeit.”

LeCraw spent $455,951 on 15 bottles of rare Bordeaux from AWC at the peak of the market in 2006 and 2007, including a bottle that purported to be a 1787 Château d’Yquem. LeCraw’s complaint stated that independent investigators had shown the wine – and several others purchased through AWC – to be fakes.

The wine retailer denied any of the wines were fakes “much less that they knowingly sold any counterfeit wines” to LeCraw. They said LeCraw asked them to obtain the 15 bottles from other parties and that they paid those suppliers more than $355,000 to make the acquisition. At the end of the day the deals netted AWC a little more than $100,000, or 22 percent, in profit.

“Since counterfeiting became an issue in the fine wine trade in 2007, Antique Wine has been a leading example in exploring anti-counterfeit measures, including partnering with a French scientific testing facility in early 2008 to develop a method to identify the chemical composition of vintage wine bottles to detect the age of the bottle and when the glass was made,” the AWC said in the court papers.

A lawyer for the merchant, J. Marbury Rainer, argued in the papers that, under agreements LeCraw signed when he bought and sold wine through AWC, all disputes were to be subject to English law. And “expertise as to English contract interpretation is more likely to be found in England.”

Rainer noted the company did not have any assets in Georgia, its sales in the state represented less than 1 percent of their business, the company was based in London as were its employees. Additionally, most of the experts and witnesses that would be called should the matter move forward were in Britain, France, Austria and Hong Kong, not in the U.S.

So for all of those reasons, they urged U.S. District Judge Julie E. Carnes to dismiss the lawsuit.

The next batch of submissions on the case are due on July 7. LeCraw’s lawyer John O’Shea Sullivan could not be reached for comment.

The 15 wines at the center of the case are:

1787 Château d’Yquem (purchased for $90,000 plus $1400 for insurance)
1784 Château Lafite Rothschild (purchased for $73,000)
1789 Château Lafite Rothschild (purchased for $44,000)
1791 Château Lafite Rothschild (purchased for $44,000)
1800 Château Lafite Rothschild (purchased for $40,000)
1815 Château Lafite Rothschild (purchased for $40,000)
1846 Château Lafite Rothschild (purchased for $22,000)
1848 Château Lafite Rothschild (purchased for $22,000)
1889 Château Lafite Rothschild (purchased for $4773)
1894 Château Lafite Rothschild (purchased for $4534)
1894 Château Lafite Rothschild (purchased for $4534)
1898 Château Lafite Rothschild (purchased for $3023)
1906 Château Lafite Rothschild (purchased for $5568)
1908 Château Margaux (purchased for about $11,344)
1847 Château d’Yquem (purchased for $37,375)

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