Thieves targeted top chateaux in €1m wine heists
Fifteen people have gone on trial for stealing almost 4,000 bottles of grands crus wines worth €1m from a string of top Bordeaux chateaux, in an elaborate scheme in which some were stolen to order.
The alleged wine thieves were arrested last year in a vast sting operation involving 300 gendarmes in four regions of south-western France and Paris, called Cassevin - or Winebreak.
The men are accused of mounting a "highly organised and professional" operation to swipe some of the world's most expensive and inaccessible bottles from merchants and 13 renowned chateaux, including Cheval-Blanc, Margaux, Lafite Rothschild, Yquem, Haut-Bailly, Léoville Las Cases, Lascombes and Palmer.
Prosecutors say they then sold their booty at cut prices to well-heeled wine lovers and restaurants desperate to get their hands on rare vintages.
The defendants include an uncle and nephew alleged to be the masterminds of the scheme, along with a company boss from Biarritz and one of his employees, two teachers from the Tarn area of south-western France and a political sciences professor from a Paris university. The alleged ringleader has spent 28 years behind bars, including 15 years for jewellery heists.
In all, investigators concluded that the gang stole 3,771 bottles and made a profit of €350,000.
The thefts took place over a nine-month period from June 2013 to February last year. Investigators said the thieves were well informed and that the thefts were carried out every two weeks or so, each of them in a matter of minutes.
After removing the cases from the targeted chateau's cellars and escaping, the thieves cleaned their fingerprints from the getaway vehicle with bleach and then set fire to it.
Police found hundreds of bottles of wine and tens of thousands of euro in cash, as well as stolen vehicles and weapons during the sting operation. The robbers risk a maximum prison term of 15 years. The trial continues. (© Daily Telegraph, London)