French police seize 10 Chinese-owned vineyards on suspicions of tax fraud

BORDEAUX (AFP) - French financial police have seized 10 wineries in the Bordeaux area which are owned by Chinese conglomerate Haichang over suspicions of tax fraud, a police source told AFP on Friday (June 29).

Haichang Group, based in the north-eastern Chinese port city of Dalian, is the biggest of numerous Chinese investors which have bought into one of France's most famous wine-growing regions in recent years.

It owns 24 estates, including Chateau Chenu-Lafitte, but the group's purchases have been under investigation by financial prosecutors for several years.

"For 10 chateaux, we discovered a certain number of tax crimes: laundering of the proceeds of tax fraud, forgery, use of forgery, etc," a police source told AFP, confirming a report by France 2 television.

"In the second quarter of the year, we seized those that were acquired fraudulently," the source said.

Investigators began looking into Haichang after reports in the French press that the group had been named in a report by a Chinese state auditor in 2014.

China's National Audit Office (NAO) said in its annual report that Haichang had been granted public money by state authorities to buy foreign technology, but had instead purchased vineyards in France.

Controlled by 56-year-old businessman Qu Naije, Haichang is a trading and shipping company which also has interests in property, tourism and agriculture.

In 2013, Paris's money laundering investigators Tracfin had raised the alarm about Chinese investments in the French wine industry and called for "increased vigilance."