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Thursday, 6 December, 2001, 06:05 GMT
Former Sotheby's chairman guilty
Auction at Sotheby's in Paris
The scam defrauded art sellers out of millions
The former chairman of auction house Sotheby's has been found guilty in New York of conspiring to fix art prices after two days of jury deliberations.

Alfred Taubman, the 76-year-old American shopping mall developer, brokered a deal with his counterpart Anthony Tennant at the auction house Christie's to fix commission on the sales of artworks.

The scam defrauded art sellers out of more than $400m in the 1990s.

Much of his prosecution case rested on the testimony of former co-worker Diana "Dede" Brooks, who said that she had been ordered by Mr Taubman to conspire with Mr Tennant to fix the commissions they charged their clients.

Mr Taubman faces up to three years in prison. His Christie's counterpart, Mr Tennant, could not be extradited from Britain.

Mastermind

The US Government investigated the case for more than four years and concluded that Mr Taubman, who still owns the majority of the shares in the company, was the mastermind behind the scheme.

Former Sotheby's chairman Alfred Taubman
Mr Taubman now faces up to three years in jail
Assistant US Attorney John Greene told the court during the trial that Mr Taubman "had the motive, capacity and opportunity to conspire to fix auction rates."

Mr Taubman's lawyers had disputed his role in the plot, depicting the millionaire as a disinterested businessman with little head for figures who regularly fell asleep during business meetings.

Now that he has been found guilty, his lawyers are likely to argue that "he is 76 hears old, he has a hearing problem prision will do him no good, it is not going to be a deterrent to anyone else to send this elderly gentleman to prison," Mark Hamlett from the New York Law Journal told the BBC's World Business Report.

"Taubman was really the last one standing. Diana Brooks had pleaded guilty. Christies had a conditional amnesty agreement," he added.

"He is a self-made man, his backgorund is typical of the American dream," Antiques Trade Gazette's Ivan McCriston told the BBC's World Business Report.

Secret meetings

They also attempted to pin much of the blame on Ms Brooks, whose evidence was to prove crucial to the trial.

However Ms Brooks, former chief executive of Sotheby's, testified that Mr Taubman had orchestrated a series of secret meetings with his equal at Christie's, Mr Tennant.

She also said that at one point Mr Taubman had told her she would "look good in stripes", a reference to prison uniforms.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Mark Hamlett, New York Law Journal
"Alfred Taubman was really the last one standing"
Ivan McCriston, Antique Trades Gazette
"His background is typical of the American dream"
The BBC's Stephen Evans in New York
"Guilty of conspiring with his rivals to fleece customers of $400million"
See also:

05 Dec 01 | Americas
History of a conspiracy
28 Nov 01 | Europe
Sothebys makes French debut
12 Oct 01 | Business
Sotheby's reviews flagging website
16 Jul 01 | Business
Sotheby's downgraded to junk status
28 Feb 00 | Business
eBay denies Sotheby's bid
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