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Tuesday, 23 April, 2002, 14:32 GMT 15:32 UK
Sotheby's chief gets year in jail
Auction at Sotheby's in Paris
The scam defrauded art sellers out of millions
The former chairman of Sotheby's auction house, Alfred Taubman, has been sentenced to a year and a day in prison for rigging the fees charged to clients.

Taubman, 78, was also fined $7.5m.

He was convicted in December.


Regardless of what he has obtained in life, no one is above the law

US District Judge George Daniels
His defence had said that jailing Taubman, who has a string of ailments, would be a death sentence.

However US District Judge George Daniels dismissed such claims, stating that Taubman had been the driving force behind the conspiracy.

"Regardless of what he has obtained in life, no one is above the law," he said.

"His was not a crime motivated by desperation and need, but arrogance and greed...He risked it all."

Plea

The judge did agree to add an extra day to Taubman's sentence, making him eligible for time off for good behaviour.

Former Sotheby's chairman Alfred Taubman
The defence said jailing Taubman would be a death sentence

Prosecutors had argued that Taubman should face a full three-year sentence.

Sotheby's and Christie's fixed the fees they charged after Taubman met his opposite number in Christie's, Sir Anthony Tennant.

The two auction houses control about 90% of the world's live auction market in goods such as art and jewellery.

The scam is estimated to have overcharged Sotheby's sellers more than $40 million in the 1990s.

'Humiliated shadow'

Sir Anthony declined to leave Britain to stand trial while Taubman, a self-made billionaire, was found guilty of rigging the art market.

Much of his prosecution case rested on the testimony of his former chief executive Diana "Dede" Brooks.

She said that she had been ordered by Taubman to conspire with Christie's executives to fix the commissions they charged their clients.

Taubman's lawyers had pulled out all the stops to prevent him serving jail time, producing testimonial letters from former President Gerald Ford, Queen Noor of Jordan and former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

"The thought that this extraordinary human being is now a defeated, humiliated shadow of himself breaks my heart," Mrs Taubman had written to the court.

Cracking down

The UK's Department of Trade is also determined to crack down on cartels in the UK.

Melanie Johnson UK competition minister said:

"Individuals who enter into cartel agreements are guilty of theft - from consumers, business and the economy.

"Up till now there has been no real deterrent in this country for those who operate cartels but this is set to change under the Enterprise Bill which will make it a criminal offence."

Under the new Enterprise Bill, businessmen face the threat of five year jail sentences and unlimited fines.

"We are determined to crack down on cartels and believe the new criminal offence will deter those who might otherwise believe that they can swindle consumers and engage in anti-competitive behaviour," she said.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Stephen Evans in New York
"The atmosphere in the courtroom was electric"
Lawyer Alex Burnside
"The European Commission seems to have puts its investigation on hold."
See also:

06 Dec 01 | Americas
Former Sotheby's chairman guilty
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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