Star chef Benoît Violier may have been victim of wine scam – report

Magazine claims Restaurant de l’Hotel de Ville could have suffered losses of up to €1.8m

French-Swiss chef Benoît Violier in the  Restaurant de l’Hotel de Ville Crissier. In the picture Violier presented the “Cuisinier de l’annee 2013” by the Swiss edition of the Gault Millau. Photograph: Jean-Christophe Bott: EPA

French-Swiss chef Benoît Violier in the Restaurant de l’Hotel de Ville Crissier. In the picture Violier presented the “Cuisinier de l’annee 2013” by the Swiss edition of the Gault Millau. Photograph: Jean-Christophe Bott: EPA

 

Benoît Violier, the French-Swiss chef dubbed “the best in the world” who died in an apparent suicide last week , may have been the victim of a £1 million wine fraud, Swiss media have reported.

The Swiss magazine Bilan reported that Violier’s Restaurant de l’Hotel de Ville, which had three Michelin stars and topped a list last year of the world’s best 1,000 eateries, could have suffered losses of between 800,000 and 2 million Swiss francs (€725,000-€1.8 million) in the scam.

However, a representative of the restaurant called the claims “a tissue of lies”, and a prosecutor involved in the fraud case said he was not aware of any link.

Citing unnamed sources including a top German chef, the magazine said Violier was one of several leading restaurateurs taken in by the alleged fraud orchestrated by Private Finance Partners (PFP), based in Sion, an hour’s drive from Violier’s restaurant in Crissier. PFP, run by two associates identified as B and E, reportedly sold the same bottles of wine between two and four times.

Bilan said the wines, including some of the very finest Bordeaux and Burgundy grands crus bought at auction, were sold for prices ranging from SFr20,000-40,000 (€18,000-€36,000) a bottle. By selling each several times over, the alleged fraudsters pocketed as much as SFr10 million (€9 million) in illegitimate profits, the magazine said.

It quoted one source as saying there was “no possible doubt” that Violier had bought at least some of the wines, noting that B – who after four months in prison was reportedly released on bail on January 14th, two weeks before the chef died – was well known to Violier, having celebrated his 40th birthday at the Restaurant de l’Hotel de Ville and racked up a bill of nearly €450,000.

Andre Kudelski, a member of the restaurant’s board of directors, vehemently denied that it had been caught up in the scam. “All insinuations that the restaurant or the Violier family were involved in all this are just a tissue of lies,” he told the Swiss broadcaster RTS, which uncovered PFP’s alleged fraudulent activities last year. “The restaurant is doing better than ever before; we are in a record year. Its financial foundations are completely solid.”

Both B’s lawyer and the regional public prosecutor, Nicolas Dubuis, told Le Temps that Violier’s name had not so far cropped up in the continuing investigation into the alleged scam.

Some 1,500 people, including Michelin-starred chefs such as Marc Veyrat and Joël Robuchon, attended a commemorative service for Violier at Lausanne Cathedral on Friday. The following day Violier was laid to rest in his home village of Montils, in the Charente-Maritime region of southwest France.

Violier had suffered two recent bereavements, including the loss of his father, but his death invited comparison with the suicide of another star chef, Bernard Loiseau, in 2003, and was said to highlight once more the intense stress of running a top restaurant.

The Restaurant de l’Hotel de Ville, ranked the best in the world by France’s La Liste last year, was famed for its game dishes; menus started at about €175. Following a staff meeting, it reopened on February 2nd, two days after Violier’s death.

Violier died hours before he had been due to fly to Paris for the presentation of the French version of the 2016 Michelin guide. Last October, Violier’s restaurant retained the three stars it had held in the Swiss guide for nearly 20 years.

– Guardian News and Media 2016