BusinessCorporate FinanceThe corridors of power…

The corridors of power...

Writing recently about Christie's, the fine art auctioneer, and its bumper profits, I was reminded of that distasteful affair between Christie's and Sotheby's and the fixing of commissions on art sales.

Those in the trade say that this sort of collusion had been going on for years, but the anti-trust lobby was not impressed.

Alfred Taubman, Sotheby’s chairman at the time (and still the major shareholder: no-one would buy him out) suffered the indignity of a spell in prison. Not much fun for a man in his 80s.

US jails have been rather busy of late. Twenty years ago, it was unheard of for a US executive to be sent to prison. Post-Enron, the jails are heaving. Martha Stewart, the lifestyle guru, did five months inside over the ImClone share dealing affair and is still under home confinement.

Bernie Ebbers, former CEO of WorldCom, will be sentenced on June 13. Now 63, he faces at least 25 years behind bars.

UK equivalents include Carl Cushnie, jailed for six years last year over his role as chairman of Versailles, the collapsed trade finance house. His appeal against conviction and sentence opens at the Court of Appeal tomorrow.

Executives and financiers who end up in prison often emerge none the worse for the experience. Michael Milken, the Drexel Burnham Lambert junk bond king, has completely rehabilitated himself after doing time for securities fraud in the early 90s.

In this country, Gerald Ronson, jailed over the Guinness share support scandal, is once again a respectable pillar of the business community.

Either way, I can’t imagine that Ebbers is much looking forward to his impending incarceration. Not that he deserves any sympathy.

Jon Ashworth is business features editor at The Times

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