Late star chef Benoit Violier might have been victim of wine scam

Chef Benoit Violier’s funeral in Switzerland (above) last Friday was attended by many famous restaurateurs.
Chef Benoit Violier’s funeral in Switzerland (above) last Friday was attended by many famous restaurateurs. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
Chef Benoit Violier’s (above) funeral in Switzerland last Friday was attended by many famous restaurateurs.
Chef Benoit Violier’s (above) funeral in Switzerland last Friday was attended by many famous restaurateurs. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

GENEVA • Swiss prosecutors are investigating four people behind an alleged vintage wine scam that may have ensnared Benoit Violier, a three Michelin-starred chef who committed suicide last week.

Mr Sebastien Bonvin, the main shareholder of Private Finance Partners, and three others are under investigation for "infractions contre la patrimoine" - a class of offences that can include fraud, Mr Nicolas Dubuis, the chief prosecutor for the Swiss canton of Valais, said last Monday in an interview.

Private Finance Partners, which filed for bankruptcy last November, allegedly sold the vintage wines worth as much as 36,000 Swiss francs (S$51,342) a bottle to restaurateurs, including Violier, before baulking on delivering them, according to a report in Bilan magazine.

By selling each bottle several times over, the alleged criminals pocketed as much as 10 million Swiss francs in profits, The Guardian cited the magazine as reporting.

Violier, 44, was chef of the restaurant l'Hotel de Ville in the town of Crissier outside Lausanne, where the prix fixe menu costs 380 francs. It was named the world's finest dining establishment by La Liste, which ranked the globe's top 1,000 restaurants.

Violier's suicide last week shocked the restaurant world as only three years earlier, he had become head chef of the restaurant that he joined in 1996. Violier, a keen hunter who specialised in game dishes and had written a 1,000-page encyclopaedia of European game fowl dishes, was found with his hunting rifle by his side.

He apprenticed alongside chefs including Philippe Rochat, who were also victims of the wine scam, according to Bilan.

Rochat, a one-time owner of l'Hotel-de-Ville, died in a bike accident last year. Violier is not accused of wrongdoing in the probe, which has been going on since at least July, Mr Dubuis said.

The restaurant was closed on Monday and no one answered the phone for possible comment.

However, Mr Andre Kudelski, a member of Violier's restaurant's board of directors, said in an interview with Swiss broadcaster RTS that the allegations were a "tissue of lies", according to The Guardian's report.

Last Friday, some of the world's most famous restaurateurs joined about 1,500 mourners at Violier's funeral in Switzerland.

Big-name chefs including Joel Robuchon, Marc Veyrat and Anne-Sophie Pic who, like Violier, were part of the elite group to have three Michelin stars, paid their respects at the funeral service in Lausanne cathedral.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 10, 2016, with the headline 'Late star chef Benoit Violier might have been victim of wine scam'. Print Edition | Subscribe