Auction Alliance goes to court after raid

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IOL aug 12 auction alliance

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The former Auction Alliance offices in The Block in Wale Street was raided by the Hawks. Picture: David Ritchie

Auction Alliance has lodged an urgent Western Cape High Court application against the Minister of Police and a Cape Town magistrate to stop police from viewing or “utilising in any manner whatsoever” any items seized at a raid of its offices on Tuesday.

As part of the relief sought in the application, the embattled auction house also wants copies of the application police made to the magistrate in order to obtain the search warrants to carry out the raid.

It wants the relief to be granted urgently, while it challenges the constitutionality of the warrants authorising the raid on its Wale Street offices and four other city properties.

They include the upmarket Mouille Sands apartment complex, where auction house founder Rael Levitt lives, the city offices of auditing firm KPMG, and premises on the fourth floor of Hout Street Studios in the city centre.

Weekend Argus has established that the Cape Town offices of accounting firm Accountants@Law are situated on the fourth floor of the building.

According to its website, Accountants@Law were appointed to perform an independent investigation into the alleged improprieties surrounding the auction house, and has appealed to members of the public to come forward with any information, on a confidential basis, which they deem to be relevant to the allegations.

KPMG was the firm the auction house allowed to make mirror images of data seized during a previous raid by inspectors, appointed by the Estate Agency Affairs Board to investigate foul play in the auction saga.

The urgent interdict application against the minister and magistrate, lodged last Wednesday, is expected to be heard on Thursday.

A date for the constitutional challenge has still to be set.

Since constitutional issues have been raised, a notice has been filed stating that interested parties may be admitted to join the proceedings as amicus curiae (friend of the court).

Auction Alliance’s business dealings came into question last year when billionaire businesswoman Wendy Appelbaum disputed the process behind the sale of the Quoin Rock Wine Estate, saying she believed methods used by the auction house were unethical.

The 194-hectare Stellenbosch property was said to be worth R60 million to R80m.

Appelbaum lodged a complaint with the National Consumer Commission in January.

She claimed she had discovered she was the only genuine bidder at the auction, and that she had been bidding against a ghost bidder set up by Auction Alliance to drive up the price.

After investigating, the commission ruled in April that Auction Alliance had contravened the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act, by conducting a “mock auction”.

But the National Consumer Tribunal later set aside the NCC decision on appeal.

Levitt has since stepped down, and also resigned as an SA Institute of Auctioneers board member.

Tuesday’s raids were part of a national swoop, which included raids on 13 offices across the country.

It was reported that members of the Hawks, police, the Special Investigating Unit, the Treasury and the National Prosecuting Authority were involved.

Details of what was seized have, however, not been divulged.

fatima.schroeder@inl.co.za

Weekend Argus


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