Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Auction disruption by fake bids

In an earlier post, Markets and Fraud, I discussed the case of an environmental activist who disrupted an auction for oil and gas drilling rights by submitting the winning bids on several tracts. Now comes a report of an auction by Christies of some Chinese bronzes that the Chinese government claims as national cultural artifacts: Chinese Man Bids but Won’t Pay for Looted Bronzes , and Chinese Bidder Says He Won’t Pay for Looted Bronzes

"A man claiming to be the mysterious bidder who bought two Qing dynasty bronzes at an auction in Paris surfaced Monday, saying it was his patriotic duty to refuse to pay the $40 million winning bid.
A Chinese collector and auctioneer, Cai Mingchao, said at a news conference in Beijing he had made the anonymous winning bids for the 18th-century bronze heads of a rat and a rabbit. He described himself as a consultant with the Lost Cultural Relics Recovery Program, a nongovernmental group that seeks to bring looted artifacts back to China.
"On moral grounds, and as a way to protest the auction, Mr. Cai added, “I want to emphasize that the money won’t be paid.”"

"The Chinese government had attempted to halt the sale of the relics, saying they should be returned, not sold.
However, the government denied having anything to do with the fake bid."
"In a statement, Christie's said: ''We are aware of today's news reports. 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.''"

One aspect of auction design that may need greater attention if these kinds of disruptions become commonplace is how to qualify and verify bidders and winners, and notify other bidders in the event that winners default, so that auctions can be made more resistant to attack by fake bidders.

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