Star chef Benoit Violier may have been victim of wine swindle, report claims

Director of eatery whose chef apparently killed himself says suggestions that it could have lost up to PS 1.4 m in alleged fraud are a tissue of lies

Benoit 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 PS1m wine fraud, Swiss media have reported.

The Swiss magazine Bilan reported that Violiers Restaurant de lHotel de Ville, which had three Michelin stars and topped a listing last year of the worlds top 1,000 eateries, could have suffered losses of between SFr8 00,000 and 2m( PS555, 000 -PS1. 4m) in the scam.

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

Citing unnamed sources including a top German chef, the publication told Violier was one of several leading restaurateurs taken in by the alleged fraud orchestrated by Private Finance Partner, are stationed in Sion, an hours drive from Violiers 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 SFr2 0,000 -4 0,000( PS14, 000 -2 8,000) a bottle. By selling each several times over, the alleged fraudsters pocketed as much as SFr1 0m( PS7m) in illegitimate gains, the publication said.

It quoted one source as telling 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 14 January, two weeks before the chef succumbed was well known to Violier, having celebrated his 40 th birthday at the Restaurant de lHotel de Ville and racked up a bill of nearly PS350, 000.

Andre Kudelski, the states members of the restaurants 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 PFPs alleged fraudulent activities last year. The eatery is doing better than ever before; we are in a record year. Its fiscal foundations are altogether solid.

Both Bs lawyer and the regional public prosecutor, Nicolas Dubuis, told Le Temps that Violiers 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 Joel 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 south-west France.

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

The Restaurant de lHotel de Ville, ranked the best in the world by Frances La Liste last year, was famed for its game dishes; menus started at about PS135. Following a personnel session, it reopened on 2 February, two days after Violiers death.

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

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