Cartel Digest

International Auction House Services / Fine Arts Auction Houses

International Auction House Services / Fine Arts Auction Houses
  Overall Cartel Period 1993-2000
  Participants Sotheby's Holdings Inc.; Christie's International plc
  Total Fines (DOJ) $45 million
  Total Fines (EC) €20.4 million

Between 1993 and 2000, the world’s two leading fine arts auction houses—Sotheby’s Holdings Inc. and Christie’s International plc—entered into collusive agreements to fix and increase fees in the auction house services market.  The European Commission (“EC”) and the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) launched joint investigations into the industry after Christie’s approached the agencies with information seeking leniency.  Sotheby’s and its chief competitor Christie’s International plc control more than 90% of the world’s auction business, providing substantially the same services.  Prior to entering into cartel arrangements, the two companies competed primarily by undercutting each other’s offers to sellers; however, from 1993 to 2000 they agreed to raise prices by fixing seller’s commissions, publishing non-negotiable

sellers’ commission rate schedules and exchanging customer information to enforce adherence to non-negotiable seller’s commission rates.  These measures were discussed at the most senior levels, with the chairmen of the two companies meeting at each other’s private residences, and then maintained through regular meetings between the companies’ chief executive officers.

 

Enforcement Highlights

  • The EC imposed a €20.4 million fine on Sotheby’s Holdings Inc.
  • The DOJ imposed a $45 million fine on Sotheby’s Holdings Inc.
  • Diana D. Brooks, Chief Executive Officer of Sotheby’s Holdings Inc., pled guilty to DOJ price-fixing charges and agreed to cooperate with the investigation.
  • The Canadian Competition Bureau entered a prohibition order against Sotheby’s Holdings Inc. and its Canadian subsidiary Sotheby’s (Canada) Inc. that required the companies to refrain from future violations of the Competition Act, pay nearly $800,000 CAD for the Bureau’s investigation costs, and educate their directors, officers, employees and agents about compliance with the Act.
  • Christie’s International plc received full immunity against the EC and DOJ fines for being the first to provide decisive evidence of the cartel at a time when the Commission had not yet begun its investigation. 
Company Conspiracy Period Fine (USD) Plea Date No. of Excluded Individuals Plea Agreement
Sotheby's Holdings Inc. 4/93-12/99 $45 million 10/05/2000 N/A  
Christie's International plc 4/93-12/99 Immunity  
Individual Company Prison Sentence Fine (USD) Plea Date Plea Agreement
Diana D. Brooks, CEO Sotheby's Holdings Inc. None No fines imposed 10/05/2000  
Canada
Company Fine Date
Sotheby's and Sotheby's (Canada) Inc. No fines imposed 08/28/2006
Europe
Company Fine Date
Sotheby's Holdings Inc. € 20.4 million 10/30/2002
Christie's International plc Immunity 10/20/2002