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As the price-fixing trial of Mr Taubman entered its third week, defence lawyers attempted to show that their client had little involvement in the day-to-day running of the business, while his chief executive Diana Brooks had shown herself capable of taking major strategy decisions without consulting her boss. Mr Taubman has been charged with agreeing a price-fixing cartel with his counterpart at Christie’s, Sir Anthony Tennant, which saved both companies as much as $400m from 1993-1999. Both men deny the charges.

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According to William Sheridan, Sotheby’s chief financial officer, Ms Brooks gave a $105m loan to a collector without seeking authorisation from the Sotheby’s executive board (the collector defaulted on the loan and the money
still has not been entirely recovered).

Mr Sheridan also said that Mr Taubman was disinterested in business decisions, while Michael Ainslie, Sotheby’s chief executive until 1993, went even further, deriding his former boss’s non-existent accounting skills.

Mr Taubman, an entrepreneur who built up a multi-billion dollar real estate empire from a $500 loan, had not been questioned by Sotheby’s lawyers during a 1997 internal inquiry into collusion with Christie’s, the jury heard, and his diaries for that period were not handed over, even though government documents would later show that Mr Taubman met on 12 occasions with Sir Anthony Tennant between 1993-96. There are no memos from those meetings.

The jury in the trial is expected to be sent out to reach their verdict early this week.