In 2013 Rudy Kurniawan was convicted of “history’s greatest wine fraud”. A decade before that, he was a 25-year-old Indonesian accountancy graduate living in LA, says Zachary Crockett in The Hustle. It was there that he began indulging his nose for good burgundy, taking out loans to spend as much as $500,000 a year on wine. By 2006 he was being called “the king of rare wines” – and he cashed in, making more than $35m in two auctions. He was soon installed in an $8m mansion in Bel-Air, with a Lamborghini in the drive.
Then came the hangover. A French vineyard owner accused him of selling vintages of his that had never existed. The billionaire Bill Koch found five fake bottles that Kurniawan had sold him; he sued for $3m. It also emerged that two of Kurniawan’s uncles had been involved in a $600m fraud on Indonesian banks. When the FBI raided his home in 2012, they found kit to make fake labels and formulas for creating rare vintages with cheap plonk. He is thought to have conned collectors out of as much as $150m, with one expert testifying that Kurniawan was responsible for 75% of the fake wines detected in 2006. He was convicted of forgery and loan fraud, and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Kurniawan is now back in Indonesia, having been deported after his release from prison last year. Yet his cup runneth over with wine-consultancy offers, according to his lawyer. “The world,” he said, “will hear from Rudy again.”
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