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Rudy Kurniawan Arrested: Indonesian Millionaire & Wine Collector Accused Of Passing Fake Bottles

Rudy Kurniawan Wine

DAVID B. CARUSO   03/ 8/12 07:46 PM ET  AP

NEW YORK — An Indonesian millionaire who was once known as one of the world's up-and-coming collectors and dealers of rare wines was arrested Thursday and accused of trying to trick other wealthy buyers with more than $1.3 million worth of counterfeit bottles.

Rudy Kurniawan, 35, was arrested in Los Angeles, where he has lived in luxury for years despite a longstanding deportation order, U.S. prosecutors said. He is charged in New York with repeatedly trying to sell sophisticated fakes of vintages that can trade for thousands of dollars per bottle.

The criminal charges follow years of increasing suspicions about Kurniawan among top wine connoisseurs. Some of his wines were pulled from a sale in 2007 after an auction house declared them to be fakes. The billionaire entrepreneur and wine investor William Koch sued Kurniawan in 2009, claiming that several bottles he'd purchased from him were phony.

Federal prosecutors in New York accused Kurniawan of engaging in "multiple fraudulent schemes" related to his wine business, including trying to sell 84 bottles of counterfeit Domaine Ponsot wine at an auction in 2008 and 78 bottles of bogus Burgundy wine from Domaine de la Romanee-Conti at an auction last February.

Prosecutors said Kurniawan also fraudulently obtained millions of dollars in loans to finance his playboy lifestyle.

"Mr. Kurniawan's days of wine and wealth are over," the U.S. attorney for Manhattan, Preet Bharara, said in a statement.

One of Kurniawan's lawyers, Henry Weissmann, didn't immediately return a phone message Thursday.

In a 2006 profile in the Los Angeles Times, Kurniawan boasted of buying nearly $35 million in wine that year, sometimes dropping $75,000 on a single case, and he talked of his own skill at sniffing out forgeries.

Investigators said in court papers that Kurniawan made some simple mistakes that led to his discovery. One of those bottles of Domaine Ponsot he tried to sell at auction in 2008 was passed off as having been made in 1929, even though the winemaker didn't begin estate bottling until 1934.

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Filed by Anna Almendrala  |