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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 12 March, 2003, 00:59 GMT
Auction houses 'to pay $40m'
A sculpture by Salvador Dali exhibited at Sotheby's auction house in Paris
The two houses control almost all the world's art auctions
Auction houses Sotheby's and Christie's have agreed to pay $20m each to settle a court case brought in the United States over price fixing.

The lawsuit was brought on behalf of thousands of clients who alleged the companies colluded in the 1990s to boost profits by charging non-negotiable commissions and ending discounts on sales.

According to BBC correspondent Mark Gregory the settlement probably marks the end to a long-running scandal that has rocked the world of art sales.

"It is a major step... The point is to put an end to the suits," a Sotheby's spokesman told AP news agency.

It appears the latest settlement, which is subject to court approval, will mean class-action claims being brought in Canada and Britain will not be able to proceed.

'Dozens' of cases

"You are talking about dozens and dozens of auctions, with hundreds of items in each auction, occurring in auction houses around the world," said Charles Wright, chief attorney in the Canadian suit.

Those who are part of the settlement must also agree not to make similar claims in jurisdictions outside the US.

The companies have already agreed to pay $537m between them to 130,000 clients inside the US.

Alfred Taubman
Alfred Taubman was jailed and fined for his role
The European Union fined Sotheby's $20.1m in October 2002 for fixing prices.

Two years ago, former Sotheby's chairman Alfred Taubman received a one-and-a-half year jail sentence and was fined $7.5m for his role in the affair.

Sotheby's has been financially crippled by the claims.

It said the settlements would be recorded within special charges in its 2002 financial results and will be funded in two payments of $10m each, reports Reuters news agency.

Sotheby's and its rival Christie's control about 90% of the world's live auction market in art, jewellery and furniture.

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05 Dec 01 |  Americas
Auction giants on trial
08 Nov 01 |  Business

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