Billionaire Sues Christie's For Selling Counterfeit Wine

Posted on April 7, 2010

Billionaire William Koch is suing Christie's, alleging that the auction house knowingly sold counterfeit wines over two decades. Koch says Christie's sold him at least 33 bottles of counterfeit wine. When his experts later tested the wines, they were found to be fakes. The Wall Street Journal reports:
Mr. Koch, a son of the founder of Koch Industries and a chemical engineer and yachtsman, claimed Christie's sold him a bottle of 1870 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild in December 2008 whose label was cob-webbed, giving it a time-worn appearance.

Mr. Koch said, in the lawsuit, that two wine experts later tested the Lafite and ruled it a fake, in part because the wine contained Cesium 137, a radioactive isotope born from the fallout of the atomic bombs in 1945 that doesn't show up in wines bottled beforehand.

Toby Usnik, a spokesman for Christie's, called Mr. Koch's allegations untrue. "We believe the allegations in this complaint are without merit and intend vigorously to defend the case," Mr. Usnik said in a statement.
Koch has spent millions of dollars sin lawsuits against wine sellers and auctioneers to shine a light on the growing business of selling counterfeit wines to collectors. The cases have exposed the buying habits of wealthy collectors and the intense rivalry between the top wine auctioneers, such as Christie's and Zachys.

Fans of the USA Network hit show White Collar starring Matt Bomer will recognize this fact pattern from a recent episode of the show in which Neil Caffrey must infiltrate a top wine auction to prove an ancient bottle of wine is a fake. In the show the Cesium 137 test was done before the sale, however.