Auction Alliance founder not in court

Rael Levitt, Auction Alliance founder, had failed to appear before the National Consumer Commission (NCC) on Tuesday despite being subpoenaed to do so.

He was due to respond to questions that would inform the commission on whether the matter needed to be referred to the National Prosecuting Authority and for criminal prosecution for fraud, the NCC’s Commissioner Mamodupi Mohlala told Moneyweb.

The NCC was probing billionaire Wendy Appelbaum’s claim. She is disputing the legality of an auction where she bought the wine estate Quoin Rock.

As a result of Levitt’s failure to appear on Tuesday the NCC will “try to get a warrant of arrest issued because it is in breach of the subpoena.

“We will try tomorrow [Wednesday], we tried today but there was no Magistrate available, so we will try again tomorrow, hopefully we will find a Magistrate”, said Mohlala.

Asked if Levitt gave any reasons for not attending the hearings, Mohlala said that he felt proper process was not followed with regards to issuing the subpoena.

“He [Levitt] said we needed to serve on him personally. We are saying that we served on his attorneys because we have a written instruction from the attorneys telling us to serve on them and not on him personally”.

Mohlala was unable to say whether Levitt was in the country. She said his lawyers had written a letter to say he would be in the country on April 2.

Moneyweb was unable to reach Levitt or his lawyers for comment.

Allegations of kickbacks, ghost bidders and collusion have been levelled against Levitt and his business.

The claims stem from a Saturday Star report that a 13-year old paper trail revealed the company had paid kickbacks to attorneys, liquidators, and bank staff to ensure business went their way.
In response Auction Alliance’s board also set up its own probe into claims of collusion between the firm and Levitt on the one hand and banks, liquidators and attorneys on the other.

Before the NCC hearings started Levitt told Moneyweb the allegations are “a personal attack” on him. “Because I started the business at the age of 20, I am the face of the brand - any attack on me is an attack on Auction Alliance. It has been well orchestrated and well-funded," Levitt said.

He added: “Three weeks ago [at the start of February] we had an impeccable reputation and now we have been vilified by the media. It has come as an enormous shock to me that we have been dragged through the mud all through untested allegations, rumours and innuendo…
Levitt added that in the Quoin Rock case, the person bidding against Appelbaum was a proxy bidder and not a vendor bidder.

“At auctions we often have people who have either never bid before or do not want to bid themselves. In the case of Quoin Rock the R50m under bidder was bidding on behalf of a wealthy investor who was registered. He saw the media at the auction and specifically asked us to arrange someone to bid on his behalf. We arranged this through someone who has acted in the past as both vendor and proxy bidder for us.

“The mistake that we have made as a business is not clearly explaining the intricacies of auction methodology. Auction systems in South Africa, at Quoin Rock and globally are no different. And because we did not explain vendor bidding and proxy bidding clearly, the public finds it unethical and distasteful. For that mistake I have personally fallen on my sword. The mission of Auction Alliance has been to professionalise auctions and make them a first choice method of sale. The events of the last two weeks have taken our business and the auction sector back 20 years. It’s a devastating time for me to witness such a media disaster.

Article sourced from Moneyweb, author Monique Vanek

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