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Bidder for bronzes to retire gavel

THE Chinese collector who submitted the winning bid for two antique bronze animal heads looted from Beijing said he has decided to quit the auction community because he is ashamed to face his peers.

The bidder, Cai Mingchao, told talk show hostess Yang Lan that he feels something like a thief when he meets industry insiders. People in the industry know each other well, and he feels uncomfortable after the controversy he generated, Cai said during the interview, which aired on Monday on Dragon TV.

Cai, a Chinese antiques collector, identified himself as the winning bidder five days after the February 25 auction by Christie's in Paris, but he said he would not pay for the items.

Conflicting stories

Nevertheless, Christie's sent him a bill demanding that he pay 31.49 million euros (US$39.6 million) ?? 14 million euros for each of the heads plus commission.

At first, he said his involvement was a patriotic act. But he later said he would not follow through because the relics might not be allowed to enter China following newly imposed checks on Christie's by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage. After Chinese authorities said that would not be a problem, Cai said he would still not complete the purchase.

Cai said he knew he had broken the rules and that his own auction house faces a tough future. He expressed sorrow for disturbing so many people and is willing to accept all legal consequences.

Cai told Yang his participation in the bidding was designed to make trouble and stop the sale, which was part of a collection owned by the late fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and his partner, Pierre Berge.

Cai also expressed his gratitude to Berge for keeping the two heads in good condition.

"It was pity to do what I did, but I would have had regrets if I hadn't done so," he said.

Cai said it was improper to blame China for his behavior. The head of China's cultural heritage bureau denied government involvement in the bidding for the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) bronze rabbit and rat heads.

"The bidding was completely personal," said Shan Jixiang, director of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage.

Shan said the cultural heritage department had no idea who was behind the winning offer until the bidder identified himself on March 2.

China tried to dissuade Christie's from auctioning the two fountain heads, which were looted from the Old Summer Palace by Anglo-French forces in 1860. But the efforts failed.

In response to the sale, China's cultural heritage authorities ordered strict checks of all exports and imports by Christie's in China.

The auction triggered wide protest in China. But Christie's argued that the Pierre Berge-Yves Saint Laurent Foundation held legal ownership of the fountain heads. Berge said he would keep the bronzes if Cai failed to complete the purchase.


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