French financial police have seized ten wineries in the Bordeaux area which are owned by Chinese conglomerate Haichang over suspicions of tax fraud, the French news agency AFP reported quoting police sources.
Haichang Group, based in the northeastern Chinese port city of Dalian, is the biggest of numerous Chinese investors which have bought into the Bordeaux wine growing region in recent years.
It owns 24 estates, including Chateau Chenu-Lafitte, but the group's purchases have been under investigation by financial prosecutors for several years.
"For 10 chateaux, we discovered a certain number of tax crimes: laundering of the proceeds of tax fraud, use of forgery, etc," a police source told AFP.
Operations at these wineries are said to be normal at the moment. A judge will now examine the evidenced collected by police and will decide the fate of the estates.
The ten wineries seized worth nearly USD33milion. The Haichang Group, controlled by one of China’s richest men Qu Naijie 57, has invested a total of USD66million in the ownership of 24 wineries in Bordeaux.
In the past four years, France’s Central Office for the Repression of Major Financial Crime has been investigating Haichang’s purchases of chateaux between 2010 and 2013.
The French probe began after investigators saw a report by China’s National Audit Office which revealed that Haichang, a trading and real estate conglomerate, had been granted state subsidies to buy foreign technology but instead misuse the funds to purchase vineyards in France.
The funds are believed to have passed through a complicated network of offshore companies, including at least one reportedly registered in the British Virgin Islands, before being transferred to France.
Chinese investors have bought about 40 per cent of Bordeaux vineyards put up for sale in recent years, an estimated 160 French wine estates are now Chinese owned, nearly all are in Bordeaux.
Meanwhile, China has become the biggest market for Bordeaux wines, about a tenth of its production is exported to China.