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THEFT

Fraudsters bottled €2m of fake French fine wine

Splashed out on a bottle of fine Burgundy wine recently? Well you might want to check the label very carefully after it emerged this week a Europe-wide probe has broken up a wine counterfeiting operation, which sold €2 million worth of the €8,000 a bottle Burgundy red Romanée-Conti.

Fraudsters bottled €2m of fake French fine wine
A Europe-wide police probe has finally broken up a €2-million French wine counterfeiting operation, which sold hundreds of fake bottles of Romanée-Conti Burgundy. Photo: Laurent Fievet/AFP

A police investigation across six European countries has finally dismantled a daring French wine counterfeiting operation, which had produced at least 400 fake bottles of a prestigious Burgundy Pinot Noir. The scam had netted the fraudsters €2 million in profit ($2.73 million).

In the end it was detectives in Italy who nabbed the two men at the helm of the network – an Italian father and son – on October 16th, after a year-long pursuit in France, Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and Cyprus, according to French radio Europe 1.

The pair suspected of being behind the operation aimed high, it seems, when chosing which wine to fake, targeting Romanée-Conti.

A Burgundy regarded as one of the world’s greatest wines, and certainly one of the priciest, Romanée-Conti normally sells at between €8,000 to €9,000 a bottle.

The ‘Domaine de la Romanée-Conti’ the estate behind the wine, in the Côte d’Or region of Burgundy, first alerted French police to fake Romanée bottles for sale on the French and international markets, late last year.

Investigators in nearby Dijon soon got their hands on several dozen bottles of the wine, which is fiercely protected in France as an AOC (controlled designation of origin).

A formal investigation into "organized fraud" was opened in March and ended last week in Italy with the arrest of the two primary suspects, along with five others thought to be part of a “structured organization.”

French authorities are awaiting extradition proceedings for the two Italian nationals, while “other suspects are being sought, in order to be able to present the entire counterfeiting network in evidence,” according to Dijon prosecutor Marie-Christine Tarrare.

Romanée-Conti wines are often regarded as some of the world’s greatest, and generally considered to be elite among Burgundies.

Only distributed through an established and exclusive network, bottles often cost upwards of €8,000 or €9,000 ($11,000-12,300).

At a Christie’s auction in Geneva in May 2011, an American collector paid a staggering €87,000 ($119,000) for a single bottle of Romanée-Conti dating from 1945, a mythical vintage to wine-lovers, because a freezing spring that year yielded only a fraction of the usual output. 

British wine expert Clive Coates once said of it: “If you do get to drink the wine in its prime you will be transported to heaven."

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ITALY

Italy should ‘take back’ the Mona Lisa from France: Salvini

The Mona Lisa, the world's most famous painting, should be brought back home to Italy from France, Italy's Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini said on Wednesday, before clarifying he was joking.

Italy should 'take back' the Mona Lisa from France: Salvini
Photo: Wikicommons
His comments come as French-Italian relations have nosedived following a series of rows over illegal immigration, domestic policies and personal attacks directed at French President Emmanuel Macron. 
   
“I announce that we're working with the French ambassador to take back the Mona Lisa,” Salvini said at a press conference to announce events commemorating 500 years since the death of the artist and inventor Leonardo Da Vinci.
   
“It would be more convenient for everyone who wants to see her up close,” said Salvini, who is also interior minister.
   
“Joking apart, obviously, we don't need more international crises.” 
 
Photo: AFP
   
Da Vinci was born in the Medici-ruled Republic of Florence in 1452 but died in France in 1519.
   
Salvini said he would visit Da Vinci's Last Supper fresco in Milan before May 2nd, the date of the Renaissance polymath's death.
   
“As for the Mona Lisa, as long as she is in Paris, that will take a bit longer,” Salvini said.
   
The painting, whose mysterious smile has long captivated artists and admirers, draws millions of people to the Louvre museum in the French capital each year.
 
France and Italy's relationship has soured since Salvini and populist leader Luigi Di Maio formed a government in June. The two governments have clashed on a variety of issues, including the Lyon-Turin train line, migrants and the loan of art works for this year's Da Vinci events. France in February recalled its ambassador after a series of “outrageous” statements by Italian officials.
   
On Wednesday the Italian government presented a wide-ranging schedule for celebrations to mark da Vinci's death over the next year.
   
“It's a holiday that will last all year and it's an opportunity for Italy to celebrate a genius, a genius that is ours, universally appreciated, so much so that the celebrations will take place around the world,” said Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.
   
Dozens of events are planned until April 2020. A major exhibition dedicated to Da Vinci's scientific genius opened on Wednesday at the Scuderie del Quirinale palace in Rome, entitled “La scienza prima della scienza” ('science before science'). 
 

Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP
 
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