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Shady Wine Consultant Allegedly Scammed Wealthy Investors out of Millions

Omar Khan met his victims—or his "marks," as the lawsuit calls them—at his International Business & Wine Society events.

by Jelisa Castrodale
10 September 2019, 2:15am

This article originally appeared on VICE US

On his website, business consultant Omar Khan describes himself as "arguably one of the best global consultants and speakers in the world," before mentioning that he's lived in a dozen different countries since he was born in Egypt during some unnamed year. He goes on to call himself a "leading innovator," to quote someone who praises his "amazing mind," and he says that his company's client list is "veritable treasure trove."

But in court documents that were recently filed in New York state, the 13 plaintiffs who are suing Khan have a completely different characterization. Through their attorneys, they accuse him of running a "fraudulent scheme" that duped them out of a combined $7 million. They say that he had "nefarious intent," when he selected them to invest in his high-dollar wine dinners, and they also allege that he exaggerated—or just straight made-up—a relationship with Château Mouton Rothschild owner Philippe Rothschild in order to make his own Bordeaux-related venture seem more legit.

According to the New York Post, Khan met his victims—or his "marks," as the lawsuit calls them—at his International Business & Wine Society events, which typically included an expensive private dinner and the opportunity to sample ultra-rare wines. (A 1945 Mouton Rothschild was served at one Society gathering, a single bottle that can sell for up to $33,000). "He was larger than life,” Kresimir Penavic, who invested almost $5 million with Khan, told the Post. "Not only by his volume, by his voice, the way he talked. He liked to position himself as in the know and bask in the limelight.”

Khan started the International Business & Wine Society in 2013, because he said that he couldn't find a business forum that had a decent wine program, or an elite wine society that encouraged its members to talk business. "The original meaning of the word 'symposium' was a drinking party where you had great conversation," he told Forbes in 2015. "I couldn’t understand why nothing like that existed."

The Society seemed to welcome anyone who was willing to pay its $5,000 annual membership fee, and who wanted to sit through as many as 11 dinners with other people who probably used words like 'synergy' and 'incentivize' while they sipped $500 Champagne and listened to assorted speakers. (At one event, the keynote was given by Jay Jay French, the longtime lead guitarist for 80s metal band Twisted Sister.)

But perhaps it was telling (or just some heavy-handed foreshadowing) when Khan admitted to Forbes that the International Business & Wine Society "[didn't] make money off the events at all." It was in 2015, Penavic says, that Khan first approached him about investing in future wine dinners—some 27, in total—promising him a significant return on his five-and-six-figure investments. (Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me 27 times… see you in court, I guess).

"Through a series of meetings and correspondences, Khan pitched Penavic on the business 'opportunity' of bringing these wine and dinner experiences to cities around the world such as in Hong Kong, Bordeaux, London and Singapore," the court documents read. "For each 'venture,' Khan required Penavic to invest funds before the event occurred. Khan claimed that the event attendees or sponsor would not pay in advance, so he and Penavic needed to cover the costs, which Khan would arbitrarily manufacture [...] Penavic never received any evidence that any of these 'ventures' occurred, let alone received any return of his funds despite his requests. Upon information and belief, the events never occurred."

Penavic was allegedly bilked out of more money than the other plaintiffs, but they also detail similar stories of unfulfilled promises—and unrealized dinners—in the court documents. Penavic also alleges that when Khan was trying to persuade him to invest in his Bordeaux Club, he "manufactured" an email from Phillipe Rothschild, suggesting that his Château Mouton Rothschild was "interested in the concept."

These aren't the only court documents that have appeared in Khan's attorney's inbox: In December, he was sued for allegedly failing to share the profits from a private dinner held in Paris that included some 36 different bottles of wine. And in January, David Sinegal, the owner of the Sinegal Estate Winery, sued him over his investment in a dinner that was supposed to include 23 bottles of notoriously expensive Château Pétrus. The event never happened, and Khan settled with Sinegal for $125,000.

In an interview with The Post, Khan blamed those cancelled dinners on 'cash flow' problems that occurred because other investors hadn't paid him prior to those events. "This is because of a cash issue, which then led to people not being able to have the dinners done and their wines received. That’s terrible. We’ve addressed it, we will address it,” he said. "To call that a Ponzi scheme, that would suggest that no dinners were done, that’s absurd."

On Sunday, the outlet reported that the Manhattan District Attorney’s Major Economic Crimes bureau had met with some of Khan's alleged victims. "It’s not civil, it’s criminal,” an unnamed source said of the DA's investigation.

What kind of wine pairs well with justice?