Wine fraud by North Canterbury company alleged

A North Canterbury wine company, two of its directors, and an employee, face a long list of charges alleging fraud concerning wine production.

The charges allege making false statements about the vintage and area of origin of wine in export eligibility documents.

The Ministry of Primary Industries has laid a total of 156 charges. The first hearing was held at the Christchurch District Court in January, but suppression orders have prevented any reporting of the case until today.

The charges are against Southern Boundary Wines Ltd, of Waipara, and its director Scott Charles Berry, 36, of Waipara, employee Rebecca Junell Cope, 42, of Waipara, and director Andrew Ronald Moore, 43, of Amberley.

The charges against the company include making a false statement about the vintage and area of origin of wine in an application for an export eligibility statement, exporting wine that did not comply with export eligibility requirements, failing to deal with grapes, grape juice, and wine from a customer as required, and selling wine that had not been made in accordance with Wine Act requirements.

Broadly similar charges apply to the directors and employee.

The three individual defendants and the company also face charges of destroying or concealing winemaking records, or attempting to do so. The charges say the records are required to be kept under the Wine Act.

The Ministry alleges in a charge that some winemaking records were found in a rubbish sack.

The Ministry alleges the offending occurred in 2011 to 2013. None of the wine involved is still available for sale. It has already been sold and consumed, or in some cases exported wine has been brought back and seized.

The names of the wine brands and labels involved remain suppressed, but the prosecutor for the MPI Karyn South said it could now be reported that the wine types involved were sauvignon blanc and pinot noir from 2011 to 2013, originating from Waipara and Marlborough.

The case was called in a pre-trial session before Judge Stephen O’Driscoll today where defence counsel James Rapley, representing Southern Boundary Wines Ltd, Cope, and Moore, indicated most of the suppression orders could lapse. Kerry Cook represented Berry.

Judge O’Driscoll lifted the orders but kept the order suppressing the wine names and brands. The MPI has said the wineries involved were the victims of the alleged frauds.

The judge said that no health risks were associated with the wine, and none of the wine was available any longer on the shelves of supermarkets or liquor outlets.

No pleas have been entered to any of the charges so far, but the judge has set November 30 for the four defendants to appear in court and enter pleas.

The judge remanded the hearing to next Thursday for the MPI to provide a memorandum about whether suppression should continue for the wine labels involved, and setting out its reasons. He may then schedule a hearing on the issue.

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