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The prediction came after dealers and collectors resolved to organise a class action against the two auctioneers at a meeting in London last Thursday.

“We are scheduled to launch the action in three to four weeks,” said a lawyer representing the potential litigants, Stephen Alexander. His firm, Class Law, claim to have registered 400 dealers, collectors and museums who missed out on the $512m compensation, which only applied to sales in the US. “It was agreed at the meeting that the London market was slightly smaller than the US market, so we would be looking for £100m, possibly £200m, from the two auction houses,” said Mr Alexander.

The UK allegations are the same as those settled in the US – that Sotheby’s and Christie’s conspired to fix commissions for buyers and sellers between 1993 and 1999. Class Law is confident that the US settlement is adequate basis for British action, but Mr Alexander believes that the claims of sellers will be more easily resolved, because Sotheby’s ex-chief executive, Diana ‘Dede’ Brooks, pleaded guilty to fixing prices charged to sellers in her US trial last year. She maintained her innocence of fixing the buyer’s premium. Her boss, Alfred Taubman, has appealed against his conviction for conspiring to fix seller’s commissions.
Mr Alexander hopes that the UK class action, like the US action, will be settled out of court and he has assured dealers worried about legal fees that the action would be undertaken on a “conditional fee basis”. Effectively, no win, no fee.