I met Laurent Ponsot, a key play in the exposing of Rudy Kurniawan, this morning. He is now working as sommelier in a Loire Valley restaurant. Seemed a like a nice enough chap. He pretended to have heard of my blog, but could only chat for a few minutes as he had to dash to get a taxi.
If you are thinking some of the details about my meeting with the Burgundian producer are about as suspicious as the label on one of Kurniawan’s bottles, you would be right – the encounter was part of a fever-induced dream just before I woke up. Late last night, when I was having problems sleeping due to a bout of the flu, I watched on YouTube the version of the Kurniawan affair according to the US television programme American Greed, and some bits of it had obviously resurfaced.
UK readers of my blog might find the American tone of the programme a bit too much at first, but stick with it for the content to come. The accounts of I have read left me feeling a strong antipathy to Kurniawan . How dare he build up trust with his friends, only to abuse it by defrauding them.
But this programme had me almost feeling sorry for him. It seems he was the front guy for a larger operation. He was lured in by a gang, with promises of fine wine drinking opportunities and money, and probably forced into debt to keep the scam going for as long as possible. OK, so this is just my speculation, but it seems plausible. When the fraud was rumbled, as he was the public-facing part of the fraud Kurniawan was hauled in and received 10 years jail to be followed by deportation, while the rest of the gang were never tracked down.
And was there not some degree of culpability on Spectrum and Vanquish, the auction house that shifted a lot of Kurniawan’s wines? Maureen Downey at Zackys didn’t need any of her special anti-fraud skills to get Kurniawan’s number when he tried to get them to auction the wine – she merely insisted on some sort of evidence of provenance, which could not be provided. But Spectrum and Vanquish had no such qualms, letting Kurniawan sell anonymously, and even allowing an obvious lie about how long a wine had been in his cellar to slip into the catalogue.
To be honest I neither have little sympathy for the “collectors”, some of which chucked millions of dollars at these fraudulent wine. Harsh perhaps, I know, but there you are. Where are Kurniawan’s gang now I wonder? Maybe involved with lower profile fraud, but I bet they are not piddling about with the likes of the wine that I buy.