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Tuesday, 17 June 2014

The Antique Wine Company files motion to dismiss LeCraw lawsuit – 'opportunistic extortion'

Château d'Yquem 

Stephen Williams with 1787 d'Yquem

The Antique Wine Company (Franchising) Limited, The Antique Wine Co. (Holdings) Limited, AWC Global Plc, and Stephen Williams) have filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit brought by Julian LeCraw jnr in the District Court Northern District Atlanta Division. LeCraw filed a lawsuit in April 2014 for $25 million in damages alleging that The Antique Wine Company knowingly sold him fake Lafites and d'Yquem from the 19th century. 

LeCraw's suit is described as 'opportunistic extortion' and that it should be dismissed by the Georgian court. Instead the the defendants are willing to 'submit to the jurisdiction' of an English court as specified under the terms & conditions.  

Statement by The Antique Wine Company with links to motion to dismiss and exhibits: 
'The Antique Wine Company, since its inception in 1989, has supplied thousands of bottles of highly valuable wine to customers around the world. It enjoys a high degree of customer loyalty and repeat business. The Antique Wine Company recently commissioned Investors in Customers to undertake an independent survey of its customers, who ranked it as “outstanding” quoting its service as “unparalleled with [the company] willing to bend over backwards for its customers. I don’t think I could find similar service and flexibility anywhere else”. In 2013 existing customers represented 83% of its sales.

Ensuring the authenticity of the wines it buys and sells is of paramount importance to The Antique Wine Company, which is why it maintains extensive records proving traceability from its suppliers and beyond, including documents from châteaux and producers.

Despite its diligence and industry-leading process for ensuring that the wines it buys and sells are authentic, on 17th April 2014 Julian LeCraw Jr, a former client of The Antique Wine Company, filed a lawsuit in the United States (Atlanta, Georgia) making unfounded allegations that 15 bottles of wine supplied to him were counterfeit, and making exaggerated claims for losses and damages in connection with wines The Antique Wine Company had been asked to sell for him.

This communication updates interested parties upon the current position of The Antique Wine Company on this matter:

London, England – 16th June 2014. The Antique Wine Company has today filed the following motions and associated exhibits in The United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia Atlanta Division.

Stephen Williams Declaration:
Links to other exhibits can be found at the end of this document.
1. The Antique Wine Company follows thorough processes to verify the provenance of the wines it buys and sells. In the case of the wines at issue, The Antique Wine Company did research their origins with a very high level of diligence. The due diligence information was disclosed to Mr LeCraw Jr prior to the completion of the transactions. There was no fraud involved and, on the contrary, full and open disclosure was made to Mr LeCraw Jr.

Examples of the above may be found in Exhibit 6.

2. The Antique Wine Company did not pro-actively solicit Mr LeCraw Jr to purchase all of the wines at issue from the company. In fact, several of the wines, including the two oldest and most valuable bottles were also being offered for sale to Mr LeCraw Jr by two of London’s largest fine wine merchants – Fine and Rare Wines and Bordeaux Index. It was Mr LeCraw Jr who specifically asked The Antique Wine Company to secure the bottles on his behalf. There is a clear record of communications that demonstrates The Antique Wine Company was not alone in being comfortable and confident in offering these particular wines for sale.

The above may be found in Exhibit 3 and Exhibit 4 .
3. There is nothing written by the relevant châteaux to support the alleged conclusion that Château Lafite found “all of the Lafites to be “Faux Faux Faux”” and that “Château d'Yquem's management concluded that both the 1787 d’Yquem and the 1847 d’Yquem are not authentic Château d’Yquem” as stated in the complaint. To the contrary, copies of correspondence written by the management of the châteaux were provided to Mr LeCraw Jr by The Antique Wine Company at the time of him purchasing the wine which set out provenance information relating to the wines. The châteaux management contacted by Mr LeCraw Jr have confirmed to The Antique Wine Company that they were not made aware of any provenance documents by Mr LeCraw Jr’s representatives when being asked to render their opinion. Similarly when Mr LeCraw Jr’s lawyers presented The Antique Wine Company with an incomplete document now described in the complaint as the “partial Downey report”, the report itself stated “It is vital that we are able to trace provenance as part of the authentication process” and that “The client (Mr LeCraw Jr) has requested we complete the report without knowledge of provenance”. Ms Downey’s lack of knowledge of the specific provenance information concerning the bottles renders the conclusions in her report worthless.
The above may be found in Exhibit 6 and paragraph 35 of Stephen Williams’ declaration.
4. The Antique Wine Company believes it has paid Mr LeCraw Jr all it owes under the Broking Agreement and has offered to return to him the 6 unsold bottles still in its possession.

The above may be found in Exhibit 12 and paragraphs 54-57 of Stephen Williams’ declaration.
5. While Mr LeCraw Jr is claiming damages of $25 million in his lawsuit, the total amount The Antique Wine Company charged him for the wines at issue was $455,951 (see Exhibit 1 and Exhibit 2) and The Antique Wine Company’s profit was approximately $100,582, clearly demonstrating that:

a. The Antique Wine Company purchased the wines from reputable suppliers at fair market value and sold them at industry standard margins. This is not a position that is compatible with fraudulent activity.

The above may be found in Exhibit 5.
b. The case is an attempt to extort funds from The Antique Wine Company. As the legal process plays out and the facts are exposed, it will be clear for all to see the motives behind the outrageous financial demands and this unfounded and exaggerated claim. Mr LeCraw Jr expresses himself to be a collector of fine wine, yet having amassed during a short time over 30,000 bottles of wine he then became no longer interested in wine, and went on to sell almost every bottle of wine he owned. Given the changed market for ancient vintage wine, Mr LeCraw Jr faced difficulty in selling the older bottles acquired from The Antique Wine Company. In the months prior to filing the complaint Mr LeCraw Jr, emboldened by other counterfeit wine lawsuits in the USA and becoming perhaps aware that The Antique Wine Company had successfully raised over £3 million to support its future growth plans, and facing foreclosure on his own property, through his lawyers threatened that adverse publicity would be created unless exorbitant amounts of money were paid to him. Mr LeCraw Jr’s behaviour is neither typical of The Antique Wine Company’s clients, nor that of a fine wine collector. The Antique Wine Company’s goal is to achieve 100% customer satisfaction so it normally seeks full resolution to all its customers’ complaints, but was unable to do so in the face of what it viewed to be opportunistic extortion.
1787 d'Yquem

April 2014 news stories covering filing of LeCraw suit:
Wine Searcher 

Previous press statements by Antique Wine Company:
Here and here.

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