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Friday, 19 April, 2002, 12:31 GMT 13:31 UK
Auction houses accused of cartel
Auction at Sotheby's in Paris
The auction houses are cooperating with the investigation
The European Commission is bringing an anti-competition case against the world's two leading fine art auction houses.

After a preliminary investigation the commission has accused Sotheby's and Christie's of breaching European Union competition rules by colluding to fix commission fees and other trading conditions.

In a 50 page document addressed to the two companies, the European Commission says it believes they entered into an anti-competitive cartel agreement nine years ago.

According to the commission, the purpose was to reduce the fierce competition between the two businesses.

Collusion at the top

It says the most important aspect of the deal was an increase in the commission paid by sellers at auction.
Former Sotheby's chairman Alfred Taubman
Alfred Taubman was found guilty of conspiracy

But, it says, the collusive agreement concerned many other trading conditions, such as advances paid to sellers, guarantees given for auction results and payment conditions.

The European Commission says it believes the collusive behaviour found its origins at the most senior level, between the two chairmen, Alfred Taubman for Sotheby's and Christie's Anthony Tennant.

Right of reply

Sotheby's said the commission's statement was just the next step in an administrative investigation which had been going on for some time.

The company said it had co-operated fully with the commission throughout its investigation and would continue to do so.

The commission began its inquiry more than two years ago when Christie's approached both the United States Department of Justice and the European Commission with proof of a cartel between itself and Sotheby's

The two auction houses now have the right to answer the commission's objections and to request a formal hearing.

A New York jury has already found the former chairman of Sotheby's, Alfred Taubman, guilty of conspiring with his counterpart at Christie's to fix commissions on art sales.

See also:

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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