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CHRIS WHITFIELD, editor-in-chief of Independent Newspapers Cape, has described an article on the company in the latest issue of noseweek as “absolute scurrilous journalism” and “fevered imaginings made into print”.
The article claims that Independent Newspapers, owners of the Cape Times, Cape Argus and Weekend Argus among other titles, struck a deal with Auction Alliance about the publication of information on auction kickbacks.
Earlier this year, Independent Newspapers exposed a money-making racket involving bank officials, liquidators and attorneys who were being paid by Auction Alliance to push business its way.
Before publication, former Auction Alliance boss Rael Levitt threatened to bring an urgent application against Independent Newspapers to prevent the exposé from being printed.
The article in noseweek, “Independent Newspapers in kickback deal with Auction Alliance”, claims that the two companies made a hurried deal to ensure both companies’ dirty laundry was not aired.
The noseweek article claims Levitt had a “trump card” – information that newspaper bosses had negotiated a kickback of more than R1 million from him on the sale of their two Cape Town buildings about a year ago.
At the same time, according to noseweek, the editorial team and its lawyers were confident it could resist an interdict application because it also had a trick up its sleeve – evidence that Auction Alliance had paid illegal kickbacks to prominent Cape Town liquidator Bernard Gutman and laundered the money through the trust account of Levitt’s current attorney, Alan Schmiedt.
It is claimed by noseweek that the two parties then struck a secret deal – and agreed to seal the court file so the details never became public knowledge.
Independent Newspapers has denied all these allegations. In a letter sent yesterday to noseweek editor Martin Welz, Independent News- papers’ attorney, Jacques Louw, said he was disappointed with the “factual distortion” in the article”.
Louw outlined the facts of the matter – detailing how the two companies had come to an agreement about the publication of the article which at no stage involved any secret deals or trump cards.
“To suggest that any person in the management of Independent Newspapers received money is, with respect, untrue and reckless.
“This transaction was fully and properly accounted for in the company’s books as part of the final sale proceeds.”
Louw said the Guttman and Smiedt allegations had been contained in the answering affidavits filed on behalf of Independent Newspapers and were available for anyone to read or publish.
Whitfield said no attempt had been made by noseweek to check facts with him, Moegsien Williams, editor-in-chief of the Gauteng titles, or chief executive Tony Howard, the three Independent Newspapers staff named in the article, or their attorneys.
If that had been done, he said, this would have put an end to the “apparent confusion” in the minds of the noseweek writers.
He said noseweek and Welz had now been provided with the facts of the matter.
“We anticipate they’ll do the right thing, but I won’t hold my breath.”
Louw and Whitfield said that to their knowledge, the court file remained unsealed.