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World Putin, Berlusconi linked to alleged theft of a 1775 wine in Crimea

Russian President Vladimir Putin visits a wine vault at the Massandra winery in Crimea.

RIA NOVOSTI/REUTERS

Ukrainian prosecutors are preparing charges against the director of a winery in Russian-occupied Crimea for allegedly uncorking a 240-year-old bottle for Russian President Vladimir Putin and former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi.

Mr. Putin and Mr. Berlusconi, a long-time friend, spent last weekend in Crimea, touring ancient ruins and visiting the peninsula's prized Massandra winery. Massandra was Ukrainian government property before being nationalized by Russia, following its annexation of Crimea in March, 2014. It has rare wine and sherry dating back more than 200 years in its collection; one bottle fetched nearly £32,000 ($65,000) in 2001.

Ukrainian prosecutors responsible for Crimea said on Friday they are preparing to file embezzlement charges against the winery's director, whom they said opened a 1775 bottle for Mr. Berlusconi.

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"This is one of the five bottles that constitute not only Massandra's or Crimea's heritage, but the heritage of all Ukrainian people," said Nazar Kholodnytsky, first deputy prosecutor for Crimea. He said two bottles like that were auctioned off in London in 2001. "The funds went to the state coffers and supported the development of Massandra and wine-making in Crimea."

Massandra's previous director, Nikolay Boyko, was fired in February after Russian prosecutors filed fraud charges against him.

Mr. Kholodnytsky said Yanina Pavlenko, who succeeded Mr. Boyko, is wanted in Ukraine for treason after she voted for the Russian annexation in 2014: "Now she's added one more crime to high treason."

When the winery was Ukrainian property, two separate presidential decrees were required to approve the sale of vintage wine from its collection. That means that under Ukrainian law, giving a bottle as a gift without Ukrainian presidential permission would amount to theft. The charges, however, would be moot since Russia now has full control over Crimea.

Russian television last week showed Mr. Berlusconi carefully examining dust-covered bottles of wine while Mr. Putin listened to the winery director giving them a tour. Later on, Mr. Berlusconi brought over a bottle to show to the party, and Ms. Pavlenko said: "The year 1891."

"Is it possible to drink?" Mr. Berlusconi asked in English. She replied, "yes."

The Ukrainian prosecutors appeared to be referring to another bottle in their case and it wasn't immediately clear what happened to the 1891 bottle.

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Ms. Pavlenko, who gave the tour last week, told Associated Press on the phone that she showed the rare wines to Mr. Putin and Mr. Berlusconi but declined to comment on whether any wine was drunk during the visit.

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