April 15: The convicted Indonesian felon Rudy Kurniawan who had duped wealthy clients to the tune of $150 million by selling cheap wine in counterfeit labels and was awaiting deportation since last November after spending 7 years in prison, was finally deported last Wednesday to Indonesia, the country where he once belonged and arrived at the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport near Jakarta, Indonesia on Friday, even as his future plans remain a mystery, writes Subhash Arora
The 44-year Kurniawan was deported last week on a commercial flight from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport to Jakarta, according to a Statement released yesterday by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) which had declared him “a public safety threat because of his aggravated felony conviction”. He had been in the custody of the US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement since his release from prison last year on 6 November.
Kurniawan has been found guilty of multiple counts of wine fraud in December 2013 by a jury in New York. After months of delays, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison in August 2014 by Manhattan US District Judge Richard Berman. He is the first person to go to jail for selling counterfeit wine in the US. Since then, there have been no more convictions either in this area.
Also Read: Released Wine Faker Rudy Kurniawan awaiting Deportation
He was also ordered to pay US$28.4 million in restitution to his victims, and another US$20 million as part of a forfeiture agreement for his property. While awarding him the Sentence Judge Berman had said that Kurniawan had perpetrated a bold, grandiose, unscrupulous, but destined- to- fail con, which he did by mixing old wine with newer vintages in his kitchen in Los Angeles where he lived with his mother and passed them off as more expensive, collectible wines. A Netflix documentary film titled Sour Grapes was planned in 2014 right after his conviction and released in 2016, showing his rise and fall in the counterfeit business.
Also Read: Kurniawan Sentencing postponed to August 4
He was often dubbed as Dr. Conti because of his love for top Burgundy wines, especially Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. According to the report in AP, in one auction alone in 2006 though his favourite auction house, Acker Merrall & Condit, he sold $24.7 million of wine, a record for a single consignee. He may have sold as many as 12,000 bottles of counterfeit wine, many of which might still remain with collectors, to be palmed off to gullible billionaires.
Also Read: Movie: Sour Grapes for Dr. Conti
It is not clear what Rudy plans to do now that he is deported. He could possibly mend his habits and become an expert in spotting fake wines professionally, which is respectable business. But like the Bollywood blockbuster Bunty Aur Babli, it is unlikely as it would be too boring for him and will lack the adventure and excitement of counterfeiting with the thrill of not being caught again. There is a famous dialogue in a Bollywood movie-picture abhi baki hai, mere dost (the Show is not over yet, my friend).
Also Read: Historical Conviction of Indonesian for Selling Fake Wines
And as Maureen Downey, a wine counterfeit expert who also testified in this case, told me in an interview in 2018 on the side-line of MUST Fermenting Ideas- a Wine Conference in Portugal where she spoke of counterfeiting in wine, that his Distributors would be eagerly awaiting his release, ready to team up for the big kill again as the chances of being caught are little and the penalties minimal in the counterfeit business in the US. She also claimed that the big fish was never caught and that East European mafia was behind the counterfeiting
Also Read: Days of Wine and Wealth over for Indonesian
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