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Auction houses Sotheby’s and Christie’s said Tuesday they each will pay $20 million to settle antitrust claims by overseas customers in a price-fixing case. Former Sotheby’s Chairman A. Alfred Taubman was convicted two years ago of plotting with Christie’s chief Anthony Tennant to fix the commissions paid by sellers of fine art from 1993 to 1999. The government said the illegal collusion to end the houses’ costly rivalry deprived sellers the chance to bargain for a lower price. It also eliminated discounts and resulted in nonnegotiable commissions, costing sellers as much as $400 million. The two houses control nearly the entire worldwide auction market in everything from furniture to antiques to fine art. A judge still must approve the deal, which lawyers said could eventually involve tens of thousands of customers worldwide. If approved, a lawsuit threatened by customers of the two auction houses in England and a suit filed in Canada will be dismissed. The lead attorney in the Canadian suit, Charles Wright, said he expected tens of thousands of Christie’s and Sotheby’s customers to eventually apply for payouts. “You’re talking about dozens and dozens of auctions, with hundreds of items in each auction, occurring in auction houses around the world,” Wright said. Sotheby’s and Christie’s have already split $512 million in payouts in a settlement for 130,000 U.S. customers who lost money. Tennant lives in England and has refused to come to the United States for trial. He cannot be extradited on antitrust charges. Christie’s representatives did not immediately return a call, but Sotheby’s spokesman Matthew Weigman called the settlement a major step. “The point is to put an end to the suits,” he said. Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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