Het Franse gerechtshof van Chalons heeft drie champagneboeven veroordeeld tot gevangenisstraffen en boetes. Ze verkochten tussen 2002 en 2005 maar liefst 426.000 flessen vervalste vintage-bubbels aan de Ed supermarktgroep, deel uitmakend van Carrefour. De vervalsers waren als manager in dienst bij het Champagnehuis Esterlin. Decanter bericht:
“The Mancy-based co-operative also has to pay a fine of €20,000, the court in Chalon decided.
The court has additionally levied a fine of €2.841m payable to French customs and excise
However the Ed supermarket group, which sought €2m in damages, is understood to be unhappy with its award of €5,000.
The CIVC, Champagne’s governing body, also brought a civil action against Esterlin, communications director Thibaut Le Mailloux confirmed.
It did this ‘as soon as the case was brought to the attention of the criminal court by the fraud squad,’ he said. ‘This is what we systematically do when such cases – albeit rare – occur. This shows our strong determination to take action against any company or individual whose criminal actions directly or indirectly damage the reputation of Champagne.’ It is unclear whether further action will be taken against the co-op.
During the trial Zehner, one of the acused, said in a signed statement read out in court, ‘Since I arrived in 2000, there has never been a true vintage [Champagne] sold to Ed, never.’
The co-defendents claimed not to know what went on in the cellar and sought to blame Zehner for the fraud and other problems at the co-op. However the judge suggested Zehner would have had no interest in organising the fraud on his own. If that had been the case, he quipped, 'We are here in the presence of a crime without a motive.'
When the current Esterlin president Eric Potié, who is also president of the Federation of Cooperatives of Champagne (FCVC), was asked by the judge if these practices had disappeared at the co-op, his response was: ‘In my position, I am unable to know exactly what is in the cellar, but it seems to be correct.”