Italian Police Bust Massive Wine Scam

Producers of Tuscany's Brunello di Montalcino were celebrating Thursday after Italian police foiled a plot to flood the market with over 220,000 counterfeit bottles of the prized red wine.

A noted wine expert who had obtained fake Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino labels and was able to falsify certification in the region's wine database, was selling lower quality local wine as bulk supplies of the coveted red to unwitting local producers, Siena's financial police said.

"It's the biggest fraud ever carried out in the agricultural and food sector," police chief Luca Albertario said.

Had it succeeded, it would have resulted in fake Brunello di Montalcino wines "ending up on the tables of half the restaurants in the world," Albertario added.

The 160,000 litres of falsified wine would have sold for up to 5.0 million euros ($6.45 million).

Investigators tipped off last year by a suspicious winemaker discovered the conman had targeted up to 10 wineries between 2011 and 2013.

He is also accused of having attempted to steal 350,000 euros from the bank account of one of his victims.

The poor quality wine, which had been stored in barrels to age like the real Brunello, was confiscated earlier this week before it could go on the market.

The oenologist, who has been banned from living in Montalcino, is the only person under investigation so far, though the police said they believed he had been helped by "collaborators in both the wine production and sales sectors, who are currently being identified."

Both the Brunello di Montalcino Consortium of winemakers and the Tuscany region have said they will sue for damages.

According to the Italian Farmers Association Coldiretti, 70 percent of Brunello wine is exported abroad, with the largest slice of the market in the United States, followed by Asia and Central America.

It is the second scandal to hit the Italian wine sector this summer. In May, police busted open a multi-million euro scam in which table wine was being falsely labelled as coming from a winery belonging to famed Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli's estate.

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