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Sotheby’s fined for price-fixing

Brussels, Oct. 30 (Reuters): European Union competition authorities fined Sotheby’s auction house 20.4 million euros ($20.1 million) today for operating a price-fixing cartel during the 1990s, but fellow auctioneer Christie’s escaped.

The European Commission said in a statement that it had found that the two colluded to fix commission fees and other trading terms between 1993 and early 2000. The commission said Christie’s escaped fines for being the first to provide crucial evidence that enabled the commission to prove the existence of the cartel.

“This case again shows that illegal cartels can appear in any sector from basic industries to high-profile service markets such as the one at hand,” EU competition commissioner Mario Monti said in a statement.

Christie’s blew the whistle in early 2000, telling both the US justice department and the European Commission about the cartel. Both regulators offer immunity from prosecution from the first firm to report such illegal practices.

“We aren’t commenting on the decision itself, but we’re pleased that it brings this chapter in the history of the art market closer to a conclusion,” a spokeswoman for Christie’s said in London.

Sotheby’s former chairman, Alfred Taubman, was convicted last December in New York of conspiring with Christie’s former chairman, Anthony Tennant, to fix auction commission fees in a scam that cost art sellers tens of millions of dollars.

Sotheby’s said it had anticipated a fine as a result of the commission’s investigation and said the fine would be reflected as a special charge in the firm’s financial statements for the quarter ended on September 30.

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