If you have a taste for the finer things in life, like Moët & Chandon champagne, you may have been bamboozled. A pretty sophisticated criminal operation that passed off cheap table champagne made in a shed as the luxury beverage has just been busted up.
Eight people are now facing charges but haven’t yet been arrested. They’ve already been punished, however — police carted off 9,200 bottles of the fake drink and a stack of labels that could’ve netted the counterfeiters $2 million, NBC News reported.
This raid is one of the most significant seizures of counterfeit bubbly ever, The Guardian noted.
The criminal operation was unearthed quite by accident near Christmas, but only announced on Monday by Italy’s Guardia di Finanza, which handles financial crime.
An official was actually investigating another organization — the nature of which wasn’t specified — and happened upon a Moët & Chandon label that didn’t have a serial number. Naturally, this fact aroused the suspicion of this official, and he started to dig a bit deeper.
What he found were thousands of bottles.
Officials followed this suspicious label into the countryside to an area near Padova (or Padua), which is in Italy’s Veneto region (the same neighborhood as Venice). There, they followed their noses to a shed and found something very interesting.
Eight people, merrily producing fake bottles of champagne by the thousands. Turns out some customers — some of them possibly overseas and not just in Italy — weren’t drinking fancy alcohol.
Tests of the “champagne” inside these bottles exposed the truth: it wasn’t Moët & Chandon but a cheap imposter — sparkling table prosecco, bottled up and labeled in a rural shed.
“The fake champagne would have ended up on the tables of unsuspecting consumers, not just Italians,” the police said.
The folks found bottling the fake alcohol had “long criminal records.” An investigation is ongoing, and it’s not clear whether police planning to make more arrests. Charges have not been filed against those already found with the fake products.
This enterprise had apparently been quite profitable. According to Reuters, the fake Moët & Chandon that had already been labeled were worth $380,000. Investigators also discovered a stack of labels, and if they’d made it onto more bottles, would’ve netted $1.8 million.
The bust also uncovered a machine used to make the metallic wrappers that seal the bottles. Reuters specified that the sparkling table champagne passed off as the fancy alcohol was actually prosecco, which is basically Italy’s answer to French bubbly. But it is far from Moët & Chandon.
For one thing, processo costs a couple of bucks, and the luxurious alternative is about $40.
“The system was very detailed and specialized,” said Lieutenant Colonel Luca Lettere. “They chose champagne because it can be sold for such a high profit. Buying prosecco for one or two euros, they can put it on the market for 35 or 40 euro. We absolutely cannot rule out that other goods may be involved.”
Now they’re looking into whether this operation was counterfeiting more than just drinks. Fake luxury goods are a pretty big problem, especially for the companies that churn out the real thing — like Prada and Louis Vuitton. Now those in the champagne business need to watch their backs.
An international network of bubbly bureaus actually keeps track of fakes in their industry, teaching customs officials how to identify imposters.
So what’s going to happen to all that phony alcohol? Don’t worry — it’s not going to be poured down the drain. The bottles have been donated to vaguely described “associations” that work in Veneto, which is home to prosecco.
[Photo By Ilya S. Savenok /Getty Images]