By Jim Boyce
As noted here on March 13, Chinese Customs has been investigating wine importers to see if they have under-declared the value of incoming goods. The largest importer, ASC Fine Wines, has been among those under closest scrutiny, with both Managing Partner Don St. Pierre, Jr and Vice President Carrie Xuan held in detention before being released within the past week. ASC Director of Communications Adam Steinberg said they were with Customs for about three weeks.
Today, ASC released a statement, which reads in part:
ASC Fine Wines would like to confirm that Don St. Pierre Jr., its Managing Partner, and Ms. Carrie Xuan, its VP of Logistics, Purchasing and Private Client business have been released by China Customs. China Customs is not holding any other ASC staff and have informed ASC that while the industry wide investigation will continue, the case against ASC will be settled shortly and the settlement will in no way whatsoever cause the company or any of its staff/owners, including Mr. St. Pierre Jr. or Ms. Xuan any future problems.
From the beginning of this industry wide investigation ASC Fine Wines has been fully cooperative and supportive and at no time did this investigation interfere with the day to day operations of the company, despite some of the malicious and unfounded rumors spread by various wine industry related people including Mr. Simon Tam a wine writer and educator from Hong Kong.
The reference to Tam stems to a March 17 post he made on Jancis Robinson’s site (members-only section):
Biggest among the alleged offenders is ASC Fine Wines, which is facing a fine rumoured to be in the neighbourhood of 5 million euros and, according to some reports in this intensely competitive market, the potential deportation of some of its top executives including founder Don St Pierre Sr and his son, managing director Don St Pierre Jr.
Don St Pierre, Sr. responded on that site (also members-only):
Specifically, Simonâ€™s allegations of a ‘5 million euro fine’ and ‘deportation of top executives’ is simply not true. I know because I was face to face with the Customs people from the beginning of the inquiry. If Simon knew anything about how Customs operate, he would know that, except for cases of restricted goods like drugs or very serious smuggling, their intention is never to deport businessmen, fine them amounts that would put them out of business or do anything to harm their primary function, which is revenue collecting.
The alleged value of ASCâ€™s imported wine declarations under review is approximately RMB 2 million, or 180,000 euros (less than one day sales at ASC). In plain American talk thatâ€™s called ‘peanuts’.
Decanter, Associated Press, the International Herald Tribune and other media and blogs also picked up on this story.
Questions remain, of course. Among them: What settlement will ASC make? And if, as ASC’s statement asserts, Customs’ investigation is continuing, who is being targeted? And at big-picture level, what led to the investigation? Expect more on this.
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