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The BBC's Kate Noble
"Sotheby's and Christie's have already agreed to pay more than $500m to settle a civil law suit"
 real 56k

The BBC's Patrick O'Connell
"The effects of this case have already been felt at the heart of the New York art world"
 real 56k

Wednesday, 2 May, 2001, 17:56 GMT 18:56 UK
Auction bosses face conspiracy charges
Sotheby's/ Christie's graphic
Former chairmen of the world's two largest auction houses have been charged over allegations they conducted a six-year "international conspiracy".

Former Sotheby's Holdings boss Alfred Taubman and former Christie's International chief Anthony Tennant are to face court hearings into claims that they colluded to fix commission rates charged to sellers at US auctions.

The US Department of Justice said the two auction houses, which control more than 90% of the world's live auctions of art works, engaged in a conspiracy involving $400m in commissions between 1993 and 1999.

The men were on Wednesday indicted by a federal grand jury in New York.

Meetings

According to the indictment, the men attended meetings to set commissions, and agreed over a list of "non-negotiable" rates.

Alfred Taubman, former chairman, Sotheby's
Alfred Taubman: "Surprised and disappointed"
If found guilty of the conspiracy charges the pair face a maximum sentence of three years in prison, plus a $350,000 fine.

"This case will show that these individuals mastered the art of price fixing," said James Griffin, deputy attorney general in charge of the criminal antitrust enforcement programme.

But Mr Taubman, chairman of Sotheby's for 17 years, on Wednesday protested his innocence, saying he was "surprised and disappointed by the charges".

"While any trial is difficult, I look forward to the opportunity to clear my name in court," he said.

Long-running probe

Wednesday's indictment is the latest twist in a four-year probe by US justice chiefs into the $4bn art auction industry.

Sotheby's itself, and former chief executive Diana Brooks, in October pleaded guilty to price-fixing charges.

A New York judge in February agreed a $45m settlement by Sotheby's over the charges.

Ms Brooks has not been sentenced.

Christie's received conditional immunity from prosecution for co-operating with the Department of Justice probe.

Class action

Last month, both auction houses received court approval for a $512m settlement to a civil 'class action' suit brought on behalf of 130,000 former customers.

Mr Taubman, a US citizen who still owns a controlling share in Sotheby's, and Ms Brooks stood down from the auction house in February 2000.

Mr Tennant, a UK citizen, worked at Christie's from 1993-96.

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