Sotheby’s, Christie’s to pay a $40 million settlement

Auction houses Sotheby’s Holdings Inc. and its rival Christie’s will each pay $20 million to settle antitrust litigation related to a costly price-fixing scheme, Sotheby’s reportedly said on Tuesday.

The agreement, which is subject to court approval, will settle the Kruman class-action lawsuit that sought damages through U.S. courts related to overseas auctions that took place between 1993 and 2000, the company reportedly said.

In 2001 former Sotheby’s chairman Alfred Taubman was found guilty of conspiring with former Christie’s chairman Anthony Tennant to hatch an international price-fixing conspiracy in the 1990s. Taubman was sentenced to a year in prison and was fined $7.5 million for his role in the scheme.

Tennant, a resident of Britain, was not extradited for the trial.

A spokeswoman for Christie’s in New York said the company was pleased an agreement was reached, Reuters reports.

Sotheby’s said the settlement will be recorded within special charges in its 2002 financial results. It will be funded in two payments of $10 million each.

Under terms of the agreement, some parties in England and Canada will not be able to pursue claims against the auction houses, Reuters reports. Additionally, buyers and sellers who take part in the Kruman settlement must agree not to pursue similar claims in jurisdictions outside the United States.

The Kruman litigation includes all buyers participating at auctions outside the United States between Jan. 1, 1993, and Feb. 7, 2000, and all sellers participating at auctions outside the United States between Sept. 1, 1995 and Feb. 7, 2000.

After the scandal the two houses agreed to jointly pay clients $512 million. Sotheby’s also paid $45 million in criminal fines in the United States and $70 million to shareholders.

European Union authorities fined Sotheby’s $20.1 million in October 2002 for operating a price-fixing cartel. London-based Christie’s escaped fines for being the first house to provide evidence to the government.

In February Sotheby’s called off its attempts to sell the company after saying a satisfactory deal could not be reached, Reuters reports. The auction house has been financially hobbled by fallout from the price-fixing scandal as well as a soft art market.