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Italian police foil wine scam

Published:  23 July, 2008

ITALY: (Reuters) - European wine drinkers are being duped into buying Italian table wines labelled as the country's finest

The scam, dating to 2004, has raked in millions of euros, with 120,000 bottles sold every year, according to estimates by Italian police who made arrests in July but delayed release of the news to safeguard a German investigation.

Police said the scam was discovered by chance.

An Italian wine producer from the Langhe area, where Barolo is made, was travelling in the Netherlands in late 2004 and came across a bottle of a highly-rated wine labelled by a winery he had never heard of - for the reason it didn't exist.

He bought a bottle of the fake wine and alerted Italian police and the scam was finally unravelled after more than two years of investigations, investigators said.

"It has been a long process because the people involved knew how to protect themselves and took advantage of the fact that they were actually faking the products outside Italy," said De Filippi.

The counterfeiting involved not only inventing non-existent wineries, but also reproducing copies of labels from well established producers such as Brunello di Montalcino Poggio San Paolo and Barbera Bricco dell'Uccellone.

At the end of the investigation, two Italian farms were seized, together with 281,000 litres of wine, 12,000 fake labels and 85,000 fake government seals used to certify the origins of the wine. Seven people have also been charged with various crimes raging from counterfeiting to criminal association.

But while police are sure the illegal production is now over, they believe the fakes may still be on the market in Europe.

"For sure, some fake bottles are still on the market, particularly in Denmark and Germany," said De Filippi.