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FRAUD

Villepin questioned in hotel fraud probe

French police on Tuesday questioned ex-prime minister Dominique de Villepin over an alleged embezzlement scheme at a luxury hotel chain that was run by a friend of the conservative politician.

Villepin questioned in hotel fraud probe
Photo: Politicus9

A source close to the probe said the interrogation was pre-arranged with police and was part of the inquiry into the Relais & Châteaux chain, whose former chairman, Régis Bulot, is accused of involvement in fraud.

Bulot, 64, was taken into custody last November on charges of organised fraud and money laundering. He is suspected of embezzling €1.6 million ($2 million) between 2002 and 2008. He was released in June.

Villepin, 58 in 2011 allegedly made a phone call – bugged by police – on behalf of Bulot in which he bragged about putting pressure on the new management of Relais & Châteaux not to co-operate with a police probe.

The politician, who served as prime minister under president Jacques Chirac from May 2005 till May 2007, holidayed with his wife at a Relais & Châteaux resort on the French Caribbean island of Martinique in 2005.

Villepin, a suave diplomat best remembered for leading the charge against the Iraq war at the United Nations in 2003, has denied any knowledge of an embezzlement scheme.

He said in a statement on Tuesday after the hours-long interrogation that he had again told the investigators that "I am in no way implicated in this sad affair that is affecting one of my friends".

Prosecutor Brice Raymondeau-Castanet told AFP it was "probable" that a judge leading the probe would want to question Villepin at a later date.

Villepin was last year cleared of wrongdoing in an alleged smear campaign against ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy, a bitter political rival.

In September a lawyer widely reported to be close to Sarkozy also implicated Villepin in a scandal involving huge sums of cash allegedly handed over by African leaders to politicians.

Robert Bourgi said he had personally handed $20 million in cash from several presidents of France's former African colonies to Chirac and Villepin – a claim that both furiously denied.

In March this year Villepin announced he would form a new centre-right party and stand against Sarkozy in the presidential elections in April and May. But he failed to secure enough support for his candidacy to proceed.

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FRAUD

Massive Côte du Rhône fine-wine fraud uncovered by French police

Some 66.5 million bottles of wine, the equivalent of 13 Olympic sized swimming pools full of plonk, was falsely sold as high quality Côtes-du-Rhône wine, French officials have revealed.

Massive Côte du Rhône fine-wine fraud uncovered by French police
Photo: Flickr

Almost half a million hectolitres of wine was sold off under the Côtes du Rhône AOC label – which denotes both the geographical origin of the wine and a certification of quality. 

Some of the wine, 10,000 litres in fact, was even falsely sold under the renowned Chateauneuf-du-Pape AOP label, the commercial value off which was €7000,000.

The massive fraud was revealed in a report this week by France's consumer fraud body the Direction Générale de la Concurrence, de la Consommation et de la Répression des Fraudes (DGCDRF).

Their inquiry into the 2017 scam unearthed a “massive misuse of the Côtes-du-Rhône label” including by a major wine producer, which has not been named.

But DGCCRF chief executive Virginie Beaumeunier told the press that the “CEO of the company” was “indicted for deception and fraud”.

Wine fraud in France has become an issue for authorities and customers alike in recent years with the problem being highlighted by the jailing in 2016 of a French wine baron.

Francois-Marie Marret was given a two-year sentence for fraud for blending poor quality wine with high-end Saint-Emilions, Lalande-de-Pomerols and Listrac-Medocs to sell to major supermarkets under prestigious labels.

The 800,000-litre (211,000-gallon) “moon wine” fraud, so called because the cheap wine was spirited to his operation by night, was uncovered thanks to the diligent work of French customs inspectors.

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The hunt for fraudsters in France's wine heartlands

The country has been hit by several fraud scandals in recent years.

In 2010, 12 French winemakers and dealers were convicted of selling millions of bottles of fake Pinot Noir to the US firm E&J Gallo.

Before that, in 2006 legendary Beaujolais winemaker Georges Duboeuf was fined more than 30,000 euros for blending grapes from different vineyards to disguise the poor quality of certain prized vintages.