Tokaji firm’s fraud in America
Seeking success, a Tokaji wine maker exported ‘fake’ wine for American markets. The fraud has generated a court battle between American importer Vinum Tokaj International LLC and the Hungarian-owned wine producer Tokaj Kereskedőház Zrt.
Péter Puklus, former chief winemaker of Tokaj Kereskedőház, told notaries how then-CEO István Kiss ordered the export of fake wines in 2009. VTI and the wine producer had agreed on the export of 2001 Tokaji Aszú wine to America, despite the vintner not having the required amount stored. Thus the CEO ordered the use of wines of a later vintage than agreed to make up the shortfall. The decision was crucial as American wine magazine Wine Spectator had awarded the 2001 vintage with 90 points out of 100 and the company did not want to lose its market.
After exporting 250,000 bottles of wine to California, Kiss ordered the production of a futher 500,000. Puklus warned the CEO that only 2008 vintage wines are left and the deal should be authorized, but the idea was rejected by Kiss. Thus the 2008 wines were labeled as being of 2001 vintage, but the delivery never got to the USA as the two parties were already in dispute.
Tokaj Kereskedőház accused VTI of not selling the wines. The American importer, in defense, accused the Hungarian company of passing on fake vintage wines. Puklus left the firm in 2011 and delivered his statement to the notaries only this year, to defend himself. Management was changed in 2012 February.
Legal representatives of VTI said gossip about the quality of the wines started spreading two months after the first 250,000 bottles reached American markets. The commercial parties being unable to settle, they decided to file charges against each other. The National Bureau of Investigation became involved on March 13, and ordered an investigation of suspected misappropriation. VTI is seeking compensation from Tokaj Kereskedőház, which the latter is not willing to pay. The case continues.
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