NEW YORK (AP) The disgraced chief executive of Sotheby”s auction house testified yesterday that a scheme with Christie”s to rip off their well-heeled clientele was hatched during a series of secret meetings in 1993.

Diana Brooks told a jury that Sotheby”s chairman A. Alfred Taubman and his counterpart at Christie”s, Anthony Tennant, agreed behind closed doors that they “were killing each other on the bottom line, and that it was time to do something about it.”

Taubman, of Bloomfield Hills, is on trial in Manhattan federal court on charges he and Tennant stole as much as $400 million in commissions from sellers from 1993 to 1999. Tennant, 71, of Andover, England, remains a fugitive.

Brooks claimed Taubman ordered her to meet with Christie”s chief executive Christopher Davidge and end the costly rivalry by eliminating discounts and by fixing commissions a violation of antitrust laws. He also warned her to keep quiet about it, she added.

“I said, “Fine, I wouldn”t tell anyone,”” Brooks said.

Brooks the first woman to head a major auction house and one of the most powerful figures in the art world in the last decade pleaded guilty in October 2000 to price-fixing charges. Hoping to avoid a three-year prison sentence, she also agreed to testify against Taubman.

Brooks testified that she and Davidge came up with a plan to charge sellers identical, nonnegotiable fees and take other measures to cut costs and boost revenues. Davidge offered similar testimony last week, saying he was under orders from Tennant to covertly ease competition between the venerable auction houses, which together control more than 90 percent of the world”s art auctions.

Taubman”s lawyer, Robert Fiske, has alleged that Davidge and Brooks cut a price-fixing deal without telling Taubman.

If convicted, Taubman would face up to three years in prison.

Sotheby”s has pleaded guilty to price-fixing charges and was sentenced to pay $45 million.

Christie”s was granted amnesty by the government for its cooperation, which included the testimony of Davidge.

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