Sunday 22 April 2018

Ukraine could bring charges over bottle of vintage wine for Putin and Berlusconi

Silvio Berlusconi and Vladimir Putin in a previous meeting at the Russian leader's rural lodge in Zavidovo. (AP)
Silvio Berlusconi and Vladimir Putin in a previous meeting at the Russian leader's rural lodge in Zavidovo. (AP)

Ukrainian prosecutors are preparing charges against the director of a winery in Russia-occupied Crimea for uncorking a 240-year-old bottle for Vladimir Putin and former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The Russian president and his old friend spent last weekend in Crimea, touring ancient ruins and visiting the peninsula's prized Massandra winery.

Massandra, which has been nationalised after Russia's annexation of Crimea last year, has many bottles of rare wine dating back more than 200 years in its collection.

Russian television showed Mr Berlusconi examining a bottle from the cellars and asking the winery's director if he could try it.

Ukrainian media quoted prosecutors for Crimea saying they are looking into filing embezzlement charges against the winery's director who gave the valuable bottle to Mr Berlusconi.

When the winery was Ukrainian property, two separate presidential decrees were required to approve the sale of vintage wine from its collection. That means that under Ukrainian law, giving a bottle as a gift without Ukrainian presidential permission would amount to theft. The charges would be moot as Russia currently has full control over Crimea.

Massandra director Yanina Pavlenko, who gave the tour last week, said she showed the rare wines to Mr Putin and Mr Berlusconi but declined to comment on whether any wine was drunk during the visit.

Nazar Kholodnytsky, first deputy prosecutor for Crimea, said: "This is one of the five bottles that constitute not only Massandra's or Crimea's heritage, but the heritage of all Ukrainian people."

He said two similar bottles were auctioned off in London in 2001 and the funds "went to the state coffers and supported the development of Massandra and wine-making in Crimea".

Massandra's previous director Nikolay Boyko was fired in February after Russian prosecutors filed fraud charges against him.

Mr Kholodnytsky said Pavlenko, who succeeded Boyko, is wanted in Ukraine for treason after she voted for the Russian annexation last year. "Now she's added one more crime to high treason."

Press Association

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