Bronze is from series that landed Sotheby's and Christie's in trouble 3 years ago A Hong Kong auction company decided yesterday to postpone the sale of a looted Chinese relic but denied it had bowed to political pressure. Hong Kong Auctions International intended to auction a bronze dog head next month but postponed the sale after experts in cultural relics at the state-owned China Poly Group arrived yesterday to obtain more details. In a statement yesterday, the auction house said it had decided to defer the sale because 'it had aroused controversy'. China Poly has close links with the military, The bronze sculpture, part of a series featuring the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac, was looted by British and French troops during the second Opium War in 1860 from Yuan Ming Yuan, or the Old Summer Palace, in Beijing. Three other sculptures from the series triggered a political row when they went up for sale three years ago. On Monday the auction house said it would cancel the sale of the dog head if the central government opposed it. Plans for the auction attracted widespread publicity and criticism from the mainland media. Some reports have questioned whether the bronze head is genuine. Lum Kwong, chief consultant of the auction house, said yesterday the decision was made on commercial grounds. 'It is not a publicity gimmick, and we have never come under political pressure from any party. The board made this decision because we also have other forthcoming important auctions which we fear might have been overshadowed by the bronze head.' Mr Lum said China Poly had not contacted his company yesterday, and no private deals been made. He stressed that the auction had only been postponed and the sale would go ahead at a future date. Jiang Yingchun, the assistant chief of the Poly Art Museum in Beijing, which displays pieces bought by China Poly, and experts from China's Lost Cultural Relics Recovery Programme will hold a press conference on the sculpture's sale this afternoon. The museum also houses the bronze ox, tiger and monkey heads bought for $31 million at auctions by Christie's and Sotheby's in Hong Kong in 2000. The sale of the three heads triggered a series of protests against the two auction houses. Following disclosure of the latest auction plans on Monday, some newspapers, including Ta Kung Pao and the Beijing Youth Daily questioned whether the dog head was genuine. 'The bronze was throughly examined by experts to prove its genuineness,' Mr Lum said. 'Those who have never seen and touched it should not have jumped to conclusions so fast.' A porcelain flask dating from 14th-century China has sold at auction in New York for US$5,831,500, the highest price ever fetched by a piece of Chinese porcelain. The new owner was described as a prominent London-based collector. The previous record for Chinese porcelain was set in Hong Kong in October 2000, when a 16th-century fish bowl and cover sold for $5,657,640.