US billionaire wins $14.9m in damages in wine fraud case

NEW YORK (AFP) - A New York jury on Friday awarded US$12 million (S$14.9 million) in damages to a US billionaire, who said he had been defrauded when he paid thousands of dollars for supposedly vintage wine that turned out to be fake.

Mr John Hueston, a lawyer for Florida energy executive Bill Koch, confirmed the award to AFP, saying his client was very pleased with the outcome.

The decision became the culmination of a high-stakes trial, during which Mr Koch, brother to the politically connected siblings who help fund the US conservative Tea Party movement, accused California Internet entrepreneur Eric Greenberg of fraud, saying he had been sold fake vintage wine in a US$3.5 million purchase he made at auction.

The plaintiff, who has never denied he was on a crusade to clean up the wine trading business, was ecstatic about the outcome.

"There was a code of silence in this bloody wine business, and now it's been broken," he was quoted by media reports as saying.

The legal battle started in 2007 following an auction, in which Mr Greenberg consigned part of his 70,000-bottle-strong cellar for sale. Mr Koch bought 2,669 of the bottles.

Mr Koch testified he had been looking for "the best of the best," and thought he was getting it.

But 24 bottles bought for US$355,000 turned out to be fake, said Mr Koch.

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