- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 31, 2002

BRUSSELS (AP) The European Commission fined the Sotheby's auction house $20.1 million yesterday for colluding with rival Christie's to fix commission fees, prices and trading conditions in art sales between 1993 and 2000.
The case follows action in the United States, where Sotheby's was sentenced to pay $45 million and its chairman was sent to jail and fined.
The collusion between the largest auction houses in the global art market involved agreed-upon increases in commissions paid to sellers of artworks as well as trading conditions, guaranteed auction outcomes and conditions of payment, the European Union commission said.
"The purpose of the cartel agreement was to reduce the fierce competition between the two leading auction houses that had developed during the 1980s and early 1990s," the commission said.
The cartel was initiated by former Sotheby's Chairman Alfred Taubman and his Christie's counterpart, Anthony Tennant, in 1993 and was carried out by senior officials in both companies, the commission said.
The fine for New York-based Sotheby's amounts to 6 percent of the company's worldwide revenue last year, EU spokeswoman Amelia Torres said. Under EU rules, the maximum fine for antitrust violations is 10 percent of a company's global revenue.
Sotheby's stressed that it has "cooperated fully" with the EU probe.
"As the fine is materially less than it could have been, we are very pleased to have the investigation behind us," said Bill Ruprecht, the company's chief executive.
Miss Torres said no fine was imposed on Christie's because it "came to the commission and provided decisive evidence" in the investigation.
Christie's said it was "pleased that this brings this chapter in the art market closer to a conclusion."
London-based Christie's also was granted an amnesty in the United States for cooperating with investigators, although it agreed to share the costs of a $537 million settlement of price-fixing lawsuits brought by customers of the two houses.
Sotheby's and Christie's also have agreed to pay $512 million to about 130,000 art buyers and sellers who brought a class-action lawsuit against the houses for fixing fees at U.S. auctions.
Taubman is serving a one-year jail term after being found guilty last December of hatching the conspiracy with Tennant. Taubman was also fined $7.5 million.
Christie's was established in 1766. It has been a subsidiary of the French Artemis SA company since 1998.
Sotheby's, also founded in the 18th century, is listed on the London and New York stock exchanges. Taubman is its major shareholder.

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