Winston: $12,500 worth of cocktail. Photo: Supplied
was the cocktail that grabbed global headlines. Sold
in 2013 for a mind-boggling $12,500, it even gave
Crown Casino's Club 23 - the bar owned by James Packer,
Shane Warne and Joe Hachem - a Guinness World Record.
despite the billing, it wasn't the most expensive
drink ever sold - technically, it wasn't sold at all.
Fairfax Media can reveal the purchase was faked to
help cover up a $32 million heist that had taken place
at the casino just a day before.
February 2013, Crown had announced that New Zealand
millionaire James Manning would pay the five-figure
sum for "The Winston" - a cocktail made
with 1858-vintage Croizet Cuvee Leonie cognac, the
drop that Winston Churchill and Dwight Eisenhower
sipped when planning the D-Day landings.
what was perhaps a bad omen for Crown, it was also
the cognac stocked on the Titanic.
had been lured to the casino by one of its VIP services
staff, the division that handles high-rollers. What
Crown didn't know was that Manning had friends on
what would later be described by police as an Oceans
11-style scam, Manning embarked on an extraordinary
winning streak on the card tables. Eight winning hands
in the streak, which netted $32 million, piqued Crown's
could not believe what he had won and some of the
bets he placed were very, very suspicious," a
former Crown executive said. "Those eight hands,
in particular - he bet against the odds and won, so
one of our surveillance guys decided to take a closer
examining video, the surveillance expert realised
that Crown's network of cameras in the VIP room had
been breached and someone was giving signals to Manning
at the table. Crown eventually worked out the VIP
services manager who had invited Manning to the casino
was in on the scam. "It was very elaborate and
they nearly got away with it," the executive
security guard knocked on the door of Manning's luxurious
villa at Crown Towers in the middle of the night,
and the gambler and his family were evicted. As the
majority of the $32 million of winnings had not yet
been transferred out of the casino, Crown management
decided not to press charges. Manning was given an
exclusion notice, banning him from the premises.
the late-night sting left Crown's public relations
department in a bind. The casino had already announced
that Manning, "a businessman from New Zealand",
would be buying the world-record cocktail.
event was scheduled for February 7. Jason Gillott,
the Hong Kong-based marketing manager for Croizet,
had flown in with a bottle of 1858 Cuvee Leonie, worth
an estimated $150,000. Some guests had been asked
if they could be official witnesses for a Guinness
World Record. "Having James Manning done for
a gambling heist just before the event was not in
the script," said a former member of Crown's
PR team."We had the cognac, we had the event
organised, we just didn't have a buyer. We were in
an awful bind."
in the rarified world of Crown, finding someone willing
to pay $12,500 for a cocktail is no easy task. With
a PR embarrassment looming, two Crown executives -
Vice President of VIP Services, Ishan Ratnam, and
the Chief Operating Officer of Crown Hotels, Peter
Crinis - approached a regular face at Crown Towers,
is a financial backer of the Geelong Football Club,
sometimes lives in a villa suite at Crown Towers,
and is a close friend of Ratnam and Crinis.
was also a reluctant buyer, but eventually a deal
was struck. Nguyen would sign for the drink at Club
23, thereby appeasing the Guinness World Records judges,
and the money would be repaid to him by Crown at a
whole thing was fake... $12,500 was repaid to Giang
so he would pose for the pic," a former Crown
employee told The Sunday Age. "Giang stepped
in at the last minute. He made the transaction as
per Guinness rules, but he got his money back and
it never came from Club 23."
would have got away with it if it had not been for
the scandal engulfing former Fiat Chrysler boss Clyde
Campbell, and his links with Crown. Ratnam has been
named in court documents alleging that Campbell funnelled
Fiat Chrysler money through a company called My Alfa
Romeo - which Ratnam owns with Campbell's wife, Simone
- to buy a $400,000 luxury boat.
revelation about Campbell and Ratnam encouraged three
past and present employees of Crown to come forward.
They recall how, on the night of the world record
attempt, Nguyen turned up to the glamorous cocktail
party wearing old sandals, direct from his hotel room,
with Ratnam following him.
was in such a hurry to leave he didn't even finish
The Winston. "A sip for the cameras and he was
gone," said a former staffer.
can tell you now, Giang 'bought' the cocktail at the
event, but was never charged, as he stepped in as
Ishan's friend. I am glad it is out in the open now."
of the parties involved responded to questions from
Fairfax Media - including whether Club 23 would relinquish
its world record title. According to the Guinness
World Records website, Club 23 still has the title
for the most expensive drink ever sold.