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I've made my decision, says relics' top bidder

THE Chinese antiques collector who bid the top prices at a Paris auction for two bronze animal heads looted from Beijing and then refused to pay says he might still not pay even after the auction house extended the deadline.

Cai Mingchao told Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV at the weekend that London-based Christie's had never contacted him after his winning bid of 31.49 million euros (US$39.63 million) on February 25.

Cai, a native of Xiamen City in southern China's Fujian Province, told a press conference several days after the auction that he had committed a "patriotic act" by winning the bid and refusing to pay.

However, he later changed his story, saying he wasn't able to pay because the bronzes were not allowed to enter China due to a regulation issued a day after the auction by China's cultural relics administration.

The Chinese antiques, the heads of a rat and a rabbit, were owned by the late fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and his partner.

They were among hundreds of thousands of treasures looted when the Old Summer Palace in Beijing was burned down by Anglo-French allied forces in 1860.

Christie's said earlier this month that it would extend the time to pay to one month from the usual seven days to give Cai a chance to reconsider his decision.

But Cai told Phoenix TV: "I have already made the decision and already acted it out. The decision might be the same after one month."

However, Cai has been criticized by some Chinese antique experts who said his bidding only served to push up the prices of the looted items to "exorbitant" levels.

Xie Chensheng, honorary director of the China Cultural Relics Association, told the Oriental Morning Post: "The only thing he has achieved was that the treasures have now been deliberately pushed to high prices."

The high prices may benefit the person reportedly behind Cai's bid, according to the Shanghai newspaper.

Cai Chenyang, president of the Hanshe Group of Taiwan, had collected four animal heads by the end of 1980s. These were later bought back by Chinese mainland foundations and returned to the government.

The World Ko & Tsai Association has been supporting Cai Mingchao for many years and Cai Chenyang is the nephew of Cai Wancai, chief adviser for the association.

Online forum users are regarding Cai's bidding as a speculative move in favor of the Taiwan group, which owns a number of other antiques and may benefit from any rise in prices.


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