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Wine Racket Leads to Charges in Canada

July 2015
 
by Peter Mitham
 
 
“canada
 
Montreal prosecutors allege that nearly 4.28 million gallons of imported bulk wine were doctored and sold as part of an underground scheme in Quebec, Canada.

Montreal, Quebec—A preliminary hearing in the criminal trial of one of the Canada’s biggest cases of wine fraud will be set this fall after more than a year of investigation.

Montreal-based police officers working under the auspices of the province-wide initiative established to tackle the underground economy—Actions concertée pour contrer les économies souterraines (ACCES)—have gathered evidence suggesting that the governments of Canada and Quebec are out more than $13 million (Canadian) in tax revenue from the sale of more than 1.8 million bottles of bulk wine imported and doctored to resemble popular brands sold in Quebec. The scheme allegedly operated between December 2010 and May 2015.

The wine was allegedly imported from Italy through Montreal, prepared at Milan Wineries Inc. in Ontario and returned under 20 different labels for distribution through First Nations Winery in the Mohawk community of Kahnawake, located opposite Montreal on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River.

Special investigators working with the Montreal police gathered evidence that led to search warrants executed in December and January.

The raids gathered evidence that led to a series of arrests in May 2015. Among the accused are Luca Gaspari and Floyd Lahache, principals of First Nations Winery, as well as Alberto Milan, founder of Milan Wineries Inc., and Murray Marshall, a well-known figure in Ontario’s wine industry.

The charges that precipitated the arrests include a general charge of fraud, defrauding the federal and provincial governments of monies, deceiving the public regarding wares or services, conspiring to traffic in property obtained by crime and engaging in activities designed to “conceal or convert” said property.

Prosecutors told Wines & Vines that the court would set a preliminary hearing regarding the case Sept. 24. In the meantime, investigators are analyzing the trove of evidence seized to build a case against the accused.

The evidence includes wine and money related to the fraud, which will serve as evidence at any trial, as well as accounting documents.

Pending a trial, the wine has been consigned to the Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ), the state-owned liquor dealer, “to ensure the quality of the alcohol.”

But just what quality is that alcohol?

Authorities claim that the bulk wine was flavored to resemble both domestic wines bottled under the Ontario VQA label—meant to identify wines made entirely from local grapes—as well as wines from Italy.

Montreal’s police force, which handled the investigation, declined further comment as the case is now in the hands of the prosecutor for the Court of Quebec.

While wines from Canada, particularly ice wines, have long been subject to imitation and counterfeiting in China, this is the most significant example of premium domestic wines bearing the VQA (Vintners’ Quality Alliance) label being targeted at home.

 
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