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Mar 2, 2009
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Christie's declines comment in China relics spat

By
AFP
Published
Mar 2, 2009

LONDON, March 2, 2009 (AFP) - Christie's auction house declined to comment Monday after a Chinese collector refused to pay for two relics he bought in an auction of the collection of late fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent.

"We are aware of today's news reports," said a Christie's spokeswoman after Cai Mingchao, a well-known antique collector, identified himself as the bidder for the bronze rat and rabbit heads sold for more than 40 million dollars at the Paris auction.

"As a matter of policy, we do not comment on the identity of our consignors or buyers, nor do we comment or speculate on the next steps that we might take in this instance," she added.

According to Christie's conditions of sale, failure to pay enables the re-auctioning of a lot within a month of the original sale, if the seller agrees. Should it fetch a lower price, the defaulting buyer makes up the difference.

To avoid such incidents, Christie's asks potential buyers to register ahead and "reserves the right to require banking and financial reference". The buyer must pay "immediately after the sale," the conditions say.

The Chinese bidder identified himself in a statement released in Beijing by the National Treasures Fund, which is dedicated to retrieving Chinese relics from abroad.

"I believe that any Chinese person would stand up at this time.... I am making an effort to fulfil my own responsibilities," Cai said, but added: "I must stress that this money I cannot pay."

The fund statement did not specify whether Cai could not pay for the relics because he did not have the money, or whether his inability to pay was for other reasons, such as his conscience not allowing him to buy looted items.

The announcement was the latest twist to a 150-year-old drama over the bronzes, which British and French forces stole from China's Summer Palace towards the end of the Second Opium War.

The bronzes, which belonged to Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge, sold for 15.7 million euros (20.3 million dollars) each at the Christie's auction last week.

The relics are still in Paris, Christie's said. According to its conditions of sale, "the buyer shall collect purchased lots within seven calendar days from the date of sale", that is by next Wednesday evening.

Authorities in Beijing had repeatedly demanded the sale not go ahead, and that the relics be returned to China.

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