Ex-Sotheby's boss on price-fix charge

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The Independent US

The former chief executive of Sotheby's, Diana Brooks, was due in a New York court yesterday to face charges that she participated in a conspiracy to fix prices with Christie's, its rival auction house.

The former chief executive of Sotheby's, Diana Brooks, was due in a New York court yesterday to face charges that she participated in a conspiracy to fix prices with Christie's, its rival auction house.

Ms Brooks, who often wielded the gavel for Sotheby's and who until just a few months ago was considered the reigning queen of the art sales world, was expected to enter an immediate guilty plea. A judge could fine her and send her to prison for three years.

Sotheby's has agreed to pay $45m (£31m) to the American government for its part in the collusion. Christie's bought itself leniency early this year by handing over a trove of documents to investigators detailing price-fixing arrangements that dated back to 1992.

Both companies agreed two weeks ago to pay $256m each to settle a civil lawsuit brought against them by buyers and sellers who felt they had been the main victims of the scam.

Further drama may ensue, if, as expected, Ms Brooks, 50, is asked to testify against the former chairman of Sotheby's, and her former boss, Alfred Taubman. He is a shopping mall magnate who resigned because of the scandal and has so far agreed to give $156m to the lawsuit settlements.

The US Justice Department had been investigating the two firms for three years when the affair burst into the headlines early this year. Together, they still control about 90 per cent of the world's art auction market. The scandal continues to take a heavy toll on their reputations and their finances.

Ms Brooks used to be the public face of Sotheby's in North America and took charge of the auction of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis estate three years ago.

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