NEW YORK, SEPT. 3 -- Three Christie's customers today filed a $23 million civil suit alleging racketeering fraud against the auction house, accusing it of selling them three reputed Russian icons for $62,112, knowing they were "counterfeits or fakes."

Inter-Vital of Lichtenstein, described only as a business; Jean Koehler of Gumligen, Switzerland; and Benedicte Oehry of Lichtenstein, a dealer, filed suit in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

"The Mother of God," described at the time of the April 1980 sale as "Novgorod School early 16th century," and "St. George Slaying the Dragon," which was said to be "late 15th-early 16th century Novgorod School," were bought by Inter-Vital and Oehry, and "The Dormition," listed as "possibly 16th century," was purchased by Koehler and Oehry at the auction, according to the suit.

The works, from the George R. Hann Collection, were "improperly misdescribed and not authentic as described {in a Christie's catalogue} and ... the overall publicity concerning the authenticity of the Hann Collection was misleading and false," the suit said.

The suit, which called the icons "counterfeits and fakes," accused the art house of running a racketeering enterprise; a ruling of racketeering would allow , which allows the plaintiffs to claim treble damage