July 25, 2018 – Galicia, Spain
A highly rated exclusive restaurant was the cover for a million-dollar wine fraud operation. Downstairs diners who had to be on the list of registered clients or be invited by a friend of the house relished the gourmet delicacies at the Don Alex Multibart Restaurant. Upstairs was a counterfeit wine operation that was reproducing high quality replicas of exclusive wines. As a renowned restaurateur, Alejandro Estévez, fawned on his diners. As a high-end wine counterfeiter Mr. Estévez organized exclusive tastings where he commanded the attention of wine enthusiasts and collectors.
The Civil Guard arrested Alejandro Estévez along with 3 others after an investigation that was started in October 2017 came to an end. A search by the Civil Guard of the top floor of the Don Alex Multibart Restaurant resulted in the seizure of over 1,600 Counterfeit Wine Labels, equipment necessary to produce quality replica labels, along with a machine that stamps on corks.
The printed cork could have led to the downfall of Alejandro Estévez and his accomplices much earlier. Peter Sisseck, the legendary wine master at , became suspicious when he received a call about 3 years ago from a cork distributer that was not their supplier. A restaurant in Galicia had placed an order for Pignus imprinted corks. Mr. Sisseck didn’t think much of the call thinking it was a sales approach.
Two years after the cork call, alarm bells were rung when a Danish buyer complained about two bottles of Pingus that he had purchased at an auction in Belgium. Mr. Sisseck began investigating, discovering that the wine had been placed at the auction by a restaurant in Galicia. Remembering the call about the corks, Peter Sisseck contacted authorities and the investigation was initiated.
The Spanish Civil Guard began their investigation in Galicia. Their detective work led them to two other locations being used by this counterfeit wine ring in Madrid and Marbella. Although four suspects were arrested, the Civil Guard is still interested and are pursuing four additional suspects.
After the arrests and announcement, Civil Guard Lieutenant Abel Marin explained the scheme. Collectible bottles of Spanish wines were the target of this fake wine scheme. The actors involved would purchase wine in the $20 range or lesser cuvées of the targeted wineries for around $100. The wine would then be rebottled into replicated bottles using counterfeit labels, corks and seals. The counterfeited wines would then be offered for sale on auctions, to private clients, hotels and restaurants at prices ranging from $1600 – $2220 per bottle.
This operation relied on the perfection of the counterfeit wine bottles, their labels, seals and corks. The Counterfeiting was so well done in this operation that the counterfeit wines passed the inspections that auction houses require. The Civil Guard investigation estimates that over four years these master wine bottle counterfeiters sold about 1500 bottles and netted over $1.7 million. The investigation is ongoing, the estimates may be adjusted. The raid on the workshop above the restaurant also yielded 28 bottles ready for sale, and 285 bottles prepared to be filled, this is another clue that the operation sold more than is being estimated by the authorities.
For high end wineries with very limited production that caters to the elite wine collectors and enthusiasts the sales damage is minimal, all their wine will be sold. The irreparable damage is to their Brand Reputation. People who purchase the counterfeited wine bottles that bear their labels never realizing it was $20 wine in the bottle, will not have a high opinion of the brand and will make their thoughts known to others. Counterfeit wine certainly causes monetary damage, the larger damage caused may be to the reputation of the brand.
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