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US judge hands Indonesian wine forger 10 years' jail  

Disgraced wine dealer Rudy Kurniawan was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Thursday (Aug 7) after he was found guilty of manufacturing fake vintages and selling them for nearly US$30 million.

NEW YORK: Disgraced wine dealer Rudy Kurniawan was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Thursday (Aug 7) after he was found guilty of manufacturing fake vintages and selling them for nearly US$30 million.

The Indonesian-born 37-year-old, once considered one of the top five wine collectors in the world, was convicted in December of blending hundreds of bottles in his kitchen and selling them as rare vintages.

"This was a very serious economic fraud, a manipulation of US and international markets," said Judge Richard Berman. Donning glasses and blue prison garb, Kurniawan was motionless as he heard his fate. "I'm very sorry for what I have done," he muttered in an almost inaudible voice.

The judge identified seven victims to whom Kurniawan must pay a total of US$28.4 million for losses incurred due to the sale of counterfeit wines. It has been an astonishingly fall from grace for a man who came to the United States 20 years ago on a student visa and climbed to the pinnacle of the exclusive world of vintage wine.

He built his success on an exceptional palate, capable of identifying and memorising the world's finest wines beloved by the richest people on the planet.

But he was found guilty on December 18 of defrauding buyers and collectors from 2004 through 2012 by selling counterfeit bottles of purportedly rare and expensive wine.

'NEEDED TO BE ACCEPTED'

Prosecutors branded him an arch liar motivated by greed, a man who made millions of dollars selling more than 1,000 bogus vintages blended in the California home he shared with his Chinese mother.

It was in this home, on the outskirts of Los Angeles, that thousands of labels for the finest Burgundy and Bordeaux wines were found. There were full bottles waiting to be labelled, with investigators also coming across intricate formulae on how to concoct vintage-tasting wine by blending a mixture of far cheaper wines.

Over the course of the proceedings against him, prosecutors also said Kurniawan's penchant for fast cars, designer watches and contemporary art collections was built on an elaborate and years-long lie. They reiterated that stance on Thursday.

"Your honor, fraud is fraud. And the defendant carried it out for years. He did it for money," prosecutor Stanley Okula told the judge. The defence, however, contended that Kurniawan's actions stemmed from an extreme lack of confidence. "He did what he did because he was very insecure," argued attorney Jerome Mooney. "He needed to be accepted, recognised."

The allegations against Kurniawan arose over an April 2008 auction in New York where he had offered 97 purported bottles of Domaine Ponsot for sale for between US$440,500 and US$602,000. But French expert Laurent Ponsot, of the acclaimed Domaine Ponsot winery, became suspicious and flew to New York to ensure that auction house Acker Merrall & Condit withdrew the lot.

After allegedly trying to sell more dubious wine at auction in London via an intermediary in 2012, Kurniawan was arrested in March of that year. After less than two hours of deliberations in December, a New York jury had also convicted him of fraudulently obtaining a US$3 million loan. The two convictions carried a maximum sentence of 20 years each.