NY judge delays Indonesian wine dealer sentencing

NEW YORK (AFP) - A US judge on Thursday delayed until August 4 the sentencing of disgraced Indonesian wine dealer Rudy Kurniawan for manufacturing and selling fake vintages for millions of dollars.

Kurniawan, 37, was convicted last December of blending and selling hundreds of fake bottles of wine, as well as fraudulently obtaining a US$3 million loan.

US judge Richard Berman had been due to sentence the fraudster on Thursday, but delayed it a fourth time pending clarification on the number of victims and amount he defrauded them. Government prosecutors say he hoodwinked more than 10 victims out of more than US$20 million. The defence says the total amount is closer to US$8-9 million. The adjournment until August 4 allows the defence time to go over the government's report on the matter.

It has been an astonishingly fall from grace for a man once considered one of the top five wine collectors in the exclusive world of vintage wine, but who has no legal status in the United States. He built his success on an exceptional palate, capable of identifying and memorising the world's finest wines beloved by the richest people on the planet. But he was found guilty of defrauding buyers and collectors from 2004 through 2012 by selling counterfeit bottles of purportedly rare and expensive wine.

Prosecutors branded him an arch liar motivated by greed, a man who made millions of dollars selling bogus vintages blended in the California home he shared with his Chinese mother. The defence portrayed an outsider who desperately wanted to fit into the richer, older world of rare wine collectors. He mixed and blended lower-priced wines to mimic the taste and character of far more expensive wines; poured them into empty bottles of rare wines, sealed them with corks and furnished them with counterfeit labels.

His two convictions carried a maximum sentence of 20 years each. But government prosecutors have called for him to be jailed for 11 to 14 years and fined US$175,000. The defence has requested a sentence of time served - the 28 months he has been held in custody since his arrest on March 8, 2012 and a fine limited to US$12,500. He was convicted by a New York jury in December after less than two hours of deliberations.