On my return from magical Lisbon last week I had a treat waiting for me – a review copy of Suzanne Mustacich’s widely acclaimed Thirsty Dragon China’s Lust for Bordeaux and the Threat to the World’s Best Wines – the winner of the 2015 André Simon Memorial Award for drinks books.
I cannot claim yet to have read all 282 pages but I am certainly very ready to add my voice to the praise Suzanne’s book has already received. It is an excellently detailed account of the growth of wine drinking in China. In particular the entrepreneurs both from within China and outside who had the vision and determination to build wine companies in China and spread the habit of the pleasures of wine drinking despite all too often being hampered, frustrated at various levels by the Chinese Government.
Thirsty Dragon, Suzanne Mustacich, Henry Holt $32.
No let up in the investment scams
I’m not sure whether investment scams are as prevalent in France as they are in the UK. Hopefully not as these scams frequently mean that the victims lose all or part of their life savings, so that these while collar frauds are long-term muggings potentially affecting quality of life over many years.
The straight wine investment frauds continue – see below Jeff Berrill’s Westminster Fine Wines Ltd tawdry scam despite the company’s reassuringly impressive name.
Recently the recovery room scams have been increasingly active. The secondary scams seek to further strip the unfortunate victims of earlier frauds of more of their wealth and savings. They pose as good samaritans but in reality they seek to further thin victims’ wallets through a combination of advance fee fraud and gaining control over the suckers’ wine assets.
Typically recovery room scams will offer above market prices for an investor’s wine portfolio and persuade them to transfer their wine out of their account into one controlled by the recovery room. Then – surprise! surprise! – the deal goes sour and very likely the recovery room scam company disappears as does the wine. The victim is left sucked dry – royally stitched up!
Westminster Fine Wines Ltd: Jeff Berrill banned for 12 years for wine scam
36-year-old Jeff Berrill, based in Northampton and the sole director and shareholder of Westminster Wine Ltd, has been banned from acting as a UK director for 12 years. The ban will run until March 2028.
Wine investment company, Westminster Fine Wines Ltd, was founded in October 2011 and based in a serviced office in Victoria.
The company went into liquidation in February 2014 with Nedim Ailyan of Abbott Fielding Ltd based in Sidcup appointed as liquidator. Berrill gave the estimated deficicency as £232,326. £231,066 was owed to trade and expense customers and £2000 to Barclays Bank.
Berrill took £335,720 from investors. However, Ailyan found that no wine had been bought and that Berrill and Westminster Fine Wines Ltd had no account at any UK bonded warehouse.
One unfortunate investor was persuaded to buy 39 cases of Château Cos d’Estournel from various vintages ranging from 2003 to 2010. Initially he was told falsely that these wines were stored at London City Bond. Later he was told that they were at Octavian. Berrill never bought these wines.
An unexplained sum of £244,443 was taken out of Westminster Fine Wines bank accounts. This included £61,854 paid to restaurants, pubs, hotels, supermarkets and other retail outlets and payments to Berrill of £43,562.
On 6th November 2015 Berrill pleaded guilty at Blackfriars Crown Court to five counts of dishonestly making false representations. He was sentenced to 12 months in prison suspended for 24 months.
If it was possible to persuade people not to respond to cold calls the level of scams would drop dramatically. Almost all the many victims, who have contacted me since I started looking at scams in 1996, fell for a cold call. Simple rule – never do business with a cold caller.