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Thursday, 8 November, 2001, 15:56 GMT
Top auctioneer tried for price-fixing
A Sotheby's auction room
Sotheby's and Christie's conduct most art auctions
Former Sotheby's chairman Alfred Taubman, 76, is to go on trial in New York on Thursday on charges of conspiring with his counterpart at rival Christie's to fix commission fees.

He was indicted by a federal jury in New York in May along with Christie's former chairman Anthony Tennant, 70.

The charges against the two men relate to commission fees charged to customers of the world biggest auction houses between 1993 and 1999.

The US Justice Department says sellers in the United States alone were charged more than $400m in commissions during the six years of the alleged conspiracy.

If convicted, Mr Taubman, who is from Michigan, could face up to three years in prison and a $350,000 fine.

Secret pact alleged

Prosecutors allege the two chairmen breached American anti-trust laws and exploited their control of 90% of the world's art, jewellery and furniture sales by forming a secret pact to fix fees instead of undercutting each other's rates.

Diana Brook
Former Sotheby's president Diana Brooks pleaded guilty to price-fixing last year

The government says sellers lost their main bargaining tool because of the scheme. Before the alleged conspiracy, the two auction houses primarily competed on the basis of the commission fees because they both provide substantially the same service.

Mr Taubman, who remains the controlling shareholder of Sotheby's, has maintained his innocence

He resigned his post when the federal investigation into possible price-fixing began last year.

Witnesses

His co-defendant Sir Anthony Tennant, who is a British citizen, has said he does not plan to come to the United States. He cannot be extradited because there is no equivalent criminal offence in Britain.

The prosecution is expected to call another former Christie's chairman, Christopher Davidge, as a key witness.

Former Sotheby's president and chief executive, Diana Brooks, who pleaded guilty to price-fixing last year, is also due to take the stand as a witness for the government.

Earlier this year, a US district judge threw out three lawsuits alleging that Christie's and Sotheby's had conspired to overcharge for auctions held outside the US.

The judge said that the US law which banned monopolisation of trade - known as the Sherman Act - could not be applied in this case.

See also:

30 Jan 01 | Americas
Auction house cases dropped
23 Feb 00 | Business
Markets trounce Sotheby's
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