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Thursday, 8 November, 2001, 13:03 GMT
Auction giants on trial
Painting by Claude Monet
Sotheby's and Christie's control of 90% of the world's fine art
The former chairman of Sotheby's goes on trial in New York on Thursday accused of masterminding an international conspiracy to rig prices.

Albert Taubman is alleged to have schemed with Sir Anthony Tennant - his counterpart at arch-rival Christie's - to fix commission fees charged to customers of the world's largest auction houses.

Prosecutors allege they exploited their control of 90% of the world's art, jewellery and furniture sales by forming a secret pact not to undercut each other's rates.

The pair were indicted in May by a Grand Jury in New York of breaching antitrust laws.

The scandal was exposed by Patricia Hambrecht, former president of Christie's North and South America, after she was ousted by the firm.

Guilty

The trial is expected to last for six weeks and the star prosecution witness will be former Sotheby's president and chief executive Diana Brooks, who has already pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to violate anti-trust laws.

Diana Brooks
Diana Brooks has already pleaded guilty to one charge.
Sotheby's has pleaded guilty and will pay a fine of $45m (31m).

It has also agreed to compensate more than 100,000 clients to the tune of $256m (182m), more than half of which was funded personally by Mr Taubman.

Christie's have paid a similar amount.

Only Mr Taubman will stand trial as Sir Anthony is British and cannot be extradited to the US because there is no equivalent criminal offence in Britain.

If he is convicted, Mr Taubman faces a massive fine and up to three years in prison.

This will be on top of the $186m (127m) he has already agreed to pay to cover Sotheby's expenses from the scandal.

Colourful past

Mr Taubman bought Sotheby's in 1983 when it was in the throes of a hostile take-over attempt.

He remains the company's controlling shareholder.

He grew up in a working class Jewish family in the American state of Michigan, during the Great Depression.

After dropping out of university he joined his father's construction industry and became a billionaire by building a shopping mall empire.

Along the way, Mr Taubman managed to place his name on three buildings at the University of Michigan, found a professional football team, and marry a former Miss Israel.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Duncan Bartlett
"Former chairman Albert Taubman maintains his innocence."
See also:

05 Oct 00 | Americas
Sotheby's admits 'auction cartel'
12 Oct 01 | Business
Sotheby's reviews flagging website
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