Doubts have been cast on the authenticity of at least three lots of wine put up for auction by former chief secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen, with Christie's withdrawing one ahead of last weekend's sale.
A detailed counterfeit wine allegation by Los Angeles-based lawyer Don Cornwell has been circulating on Wine Berserkers, an online forum with more than a million registered wine buffs, and other forums since Saturday.
But Tang said he "has no reason to doubt their authenticity".
The three lots of wine in question are a Methuselah of 1971 DRC La Tache (lot 189), a 12-bottle case of 1978 DRC Montrachet (lot 256) and a three-bottle lot of 1959 Romanee-Conti (lot 165). Christie's confirmed that lot 189 was withdrawn as "a precautionary measure" and was no longer available in the sale catalogue.
Lot 256 sold for HK$847,000 - far more than the HK$400,000 to HK$600,000 estimate - and was the second most expensive item of all 809 lots. Lot 165 sold for HK$242,000. The wine collection fetched a total of HK$48 million.
In an e-mail Cornwell said he sent to David Elswood, global head of wine at Christie's, he noted that Tang's 1971 La Tache bears two signature labels, indicating it is a later version than the initial release, which bears a single signature label.
"Most significantly, [Tang's wine] bears bottle Number 0001," Cornwell wrote. "There is no logical explanation for how a bottle labelled and issued at least a year after the initial release of the 1971 vintage could have Methuselah No0001 on it."
Cornwell also cited issues with the bottles and wax, saying two other lots should be withdrawn. He said he had sent a copy of the e-mail to the FBI.
Tang said they were bought from a reputable British agent 20 years ago. "The agent has the records of them and I have no reason to doubt their authenticity."
Christie's said: "The information we have at this time supports the authenticity of these three lots and withdrawal of lot 189 was a precautionary measure whilst we clarified and confirmed the position," a spokeswoman said.
Barrister Albert Luk Wai-hung said that if the lots were proven to be counterfeit, customs and the police should step in. "If Tang truly believes the wines are authentic, he might not be liable," he said.