Former Auction Alliance boss Rael Levitt has admitted he made mistakes but did not deserve to be demonised by South Africa, it was reported on Sunday.
“My downfall as South Africa's leading auctioneer started with the Quoin Rock [wine estate] auction... that went pear-shaped. I made some mistakes at that auction and I am sincerely sorry about them,” he said in an e-mail to the Sunday Times newspaper.
“I was the country's most high-profile auctioneer and I have taken the brunt for an entire industry.”
Levitt, who declined to disclose his whereabouts, said he was battling to come to terms with the demise of an empire he built selling property on the Cape Flats.
“The public has focused on ghost bidding as if it was unique to me ... 'Ghost' or vendor bidding happens every day, in every way in every auction across the globe from venerable art auctions in London, to real estate auctions in Sydney and cattle auctions in Texas,” he said.
It is the first time Levitt has spoken since Auction Alliance was found guilty of contravening the Consumer Protection Act during the auction of Dave King's Quoin Rock wine estate to billionaire Wendy Appelbaum for R55 million.
He said the Quoin Rock auction had hurt Auction Alliance.
“Auction Alliance is slowly winding down. It is fully solvent, it is still operating but the negative media has made its long-term future unsustainable,” Levitt said.
“Yes, we made mistakes. Yes, I made mistakes. But we employed hundreds of people. Good people... I am deeply saddened about the job losses.
“I left Auction Alliance because I thought that I could save the business by freeing it from the negative media that was engulfing me.”
He said the day he left the company was the “saddest of my life”.
“I loved that business more than I should have and walking away was the most painful decision I have ever made,” Levitt said.
“I have stumbled and fallen but I still have great faith in the future of the auction business in South Africa. Sadly, I will not be part of it.”
An application for an arrest warrant for Levitt was rejected by the Pretoria Magistrate's Court on Thursday.
Last week, the National Consumer Commission (NCC) threatened to have Levitt arrested if he failed to appear at a hearing on Tuesday. He failed to appear at the last three NCC hearings.
The commission ruled on the Appelbaum matter last Thursday, finding Levitt guilty of bid rigging and fraud. It sentenced him to 12 months in jail or a R1 million fine.
Levitt told the Sunday Times that he had “travelled extensively” to the United States and Israel over the past the few months.
“I needed a break after all the negative events in February and March and I will be back in South Africa soon.” - Sapa