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February 17, 2012

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Seven tried for cheating on ultra-premium drinks

SEVEN members of a gang charged with enticing customers to buy fake super-premium wines and cognacs in a fraud worth nearly 200,000 yuan (US$31,732) stood trial yesterday at the Hongkou District People's Court.

Prosecutors said Li Huiying, 49, hired young women as agents to invite people they knew online to meet at D.D. Coffee on Changyang Road and got the victims to pay overpriced bills by pretending to celebrate birthdays or talk about business.

Li, the chief organizer, said she started to run the coffee house last September and that agents, including two of the suspects, came to her store and introduced the profitable business strategy to her.

The agents were supposed to get a 70 percent commission while Li took 30 percent.

"It is a common practice in Shanghai to give away commissions and, in return, agents will help boost your business," Li told the court.

More than 35 men were victimized in the alcoholic beverage scam, with their bills totaling more than 198,500 yuan, prosecutors said.

Li said she bought a bottle of Martell or Remy Martin XO cognac for 200 yuan to 450 yuan and sold it at much higher prices.

When Li was asked about how much a genuine bottle of Martell cost, the suspect said she didn't know. "I never drink wines," said Li. "I sold them at prices other people usually sell."

Li admitted preparing two different menus. "Menu A is for regular customers and Menu B, whose dishes and drinks are far more expensive, is made for customers brought by the girls," she said.

One victim said he met the agent on a matchmaking website and was enticed into the coffee house.

"The prices were ridiculous," he said. "The girl just ordered a cup of tea, some snacks and fruits and it cost me 435 yuan! When I realized I was taken in, I still paid the bill because I've read so many stories saying they had hatchet men in the house and would beat you if you don't pay."

The court did not reach a verdict yesterday.


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