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Monday, 28 January, 2002, 23:39 GMT
Stamp firm in $20m scandal
A 2-cent Washington stamp
George Washington would not have approved
The normally placid, gentlemanly world of stamp-collecting has been rocked to its foundations by allegations of massive fraud.

A US stamp dealership, which boasts of its "unmatched reputation for integrity", has been charged with rigging $20m (14m) in bids at auctions over a 20-year period.

Earl PL Apfelbaum, one of the biggest philatelic dealers in the world, violated antitrust laws when it fixed bids with unnamed co-conspirators in the 1980s and 1990s, according to the US Department of Justice.

According to the charges, the firm arranged pre-auctions to determine which stamp dealer would bid, agreed not to bid at against other dealers, and made payments to other dealers who agreed not to bid.

"By rigging the bids of auctioned stamp lots, stamp dealers eliminated competition and, thus, the right of collectors to obtain stamps at fair and competitive prices," said James Griffin, deputy assistant attorney general.

The offence carries a maximum fine of $10m for each of the two counts, while executive vice-president John Apfelbaum could face up to three years in prison and fines of up to $350,000 per count.

Stamps mean money

The world of stamps has become big business, especially in recent years.

The boom in popularity of online auction sites, such as eBay, has stimulated interest in collecting among even consumers of modest means.

And richer individuals have been driven into stamps and antiquities by the unhappy performance of the stock market and other traditional investments.

This has driven up prices, collectors say.

The current record price for a stamp sold at auction belongs to a Swedish 3-skilling stamp of 1855, mistakenly printed in yellow, which was bought for 2.5m Swiss francs (1m; $1.5m) in 1996.

See also:

01 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japan launches personalised stamps
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