Benoit Violier, the 44-year-old French-turned-Swiss chef who was found dead in his home earlier this month of apparent suicide, is now believed to have been the victim of a multi-million dollar wine Ponzi scheme that put his acclaimed Restaurant de l’Hotel de Ville at risk.
Just a few weeks before his death, the chef’s three Michelin-starred restaurant topped the inaugural edition of La Liste, a ranking of the world’s best 1,000 restaurants published by the French foreign ministry in response to the perceived shortcomings of another global restaurant guide, the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.
Violier, whose immense talent was widely recognized, gave an interview just days before his death, but offered little indication that he was under duress. However, a new report from the Swiss financial magazine Bilan claims that the chef was in deep financial trouble after becoming involved in a wine scam from Private Finance Partners, a Swiss wine company that sold rare wines to elite restaurants.
The bottles, worth up to $35,000, were allegedly sold multiple times to different buyers. According to Bilan, Restaurant de l’Hotel de Ville may have suffered losses up to $2 million, and Violier was believed to be “quite troubled” by the situation.
In late November of last year, the wine company declared bankruptcy.
At least one person close to the chef, however, denies that the chef was the victim of Private Finance Partners’ scam. Speaking to the Telegraph, a shareholder in Violier’s restaurant said that Restaurant de l’Hotel de Ville “was absolutely not touched and the Violier family had nothing to do with this affair.”