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FRANCE: Scandal among the Champagne vineyards

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Scandal has hit the Champagne vineyards with one of the industry's senior figures being held on fraud charges.

Pierre Martin, ex-chairman and CEO of La Financiere Martin, which owns Bricout and Delbeck Champagnes, has been charged with fraudulent bankruptcy, breach of trust and fraud and detained in custody.

The group's financial director, Louis Fariello and Epernay-based wine broker, Luc Lhermitte, have also been charged.

The charges surround the sale of Bricout and Delbeck in February to Luxembourg investment company Opson, which belongs to US trader, Schneider.

The new owners discovered that over 50% of Bricout and Delbeck's turnover (€185m) was from sales of "vins sur lattes", that is Champagne wines which have almost completed the production process - the sediment has not yet been removed.

These bottles are generally bought by one trader from another or from co-operatives or growers.

Opson also found the company had not been able to meet its payments for two months.

On April 24, Bricout and Delbeck filed for bankruptcy with estimated liabilities of €100m.


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