LONDON (AP) _ Christies International PLC, the fine art auction house, said Wednesday that Australian financier Robert Holmes A Court sold his 7.2 percent stake in Christies to Aska International Co. Ltd. of Tokyo.

Christies also posted a 66-percent surge in net profit for the half-year on strong growth in art sales and general gains in market share.

Christies Company Secretary David Allison said the auction house wasn't certain what Aska's ultimate goals were in acquiring Holmes a Court's stake.

''Whether it's friendly or not, we don't know,'' Allison said. ''We don't want people to think anything mysterious is going on. It's just too soon to tell. We haven't been contacted by Aska yet.''

Holmes a Court's Carisbrook Holdings U.K. Ltd. acquired the stake in Christies in December. It notified the auction house of its intention to sell the holding early last week.

Christies said its net profit for the six months ended June 30 increased to 20.1 million pounds, or $33 million, from 12.1 million pounds in the same period a year ago.

Pre-tax profit rose 67 percent to 34.3 million pounds against 20.6 million pounds a year earlier.

Earnings per share climbed to 11.81 pence, or 19 cents, from 7.23 pence.

Sales rose 56 percent to 90 million pounds from 57.6 million pounds.

Christies' shares were up 3 pence at 302 pence on London's Stock Exchange Wednesday. They were up more than 20 pence earlier in the day.