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Disgraced former Auction Alliance chief executive officer Rael Levitt has denied he pretended some of SA’s wealthiest businessmen were competing against billionaire wine farmer Wendy Appelbaum during the controversial fake auction he hosted at Quoin Rock wine estate last December.
Appelbaum’s challenge of the process opened a can of worms in the auction industry, which saw Levitt resign as CEO of his company.
Contacted by Weekend Argus yesterday, Levitt confirmed he was back in Cape Town.
At the height of the scandal, which saw him accused of widespread auction-rigging, he left SA for Israel.
But he’s now back in his luxury seafront apartment in Beach Road, Mouille Point.
In March, the National Consumer Commission (NCC) found Levitt guilty of orchestrating the mock auction involving Appelbaum by planting fake bidder Deon Leygonie with the sole intention of driving up the price for which the wine estate was finally sold.
It emerged that Appelbaum was actually the sole bidder, because Leygonie, the only other bidder, was not a genuine bidder.
The commission wants Levitt to appear before it as soon as possible, and has said it is considering recommending criminal charges against him to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).
However, in a short interview with Weekend Argus yesterday that ended with Levitt slamming down the telephone and threatening Weekend Argus with police and legal action for “stalking” him, Levitt said it wasn’t true that he deceived the media by claiming before the auction that business tycoon Johann Rupert would be there to bid against Appelbaum.
After the auction, on December 10, he claimed Shoprite Checkers chief executive Whitey Basson had bid against Appelbaum.
Levitt said that was “a lie”, and questioned why he was being bothered “on a Saturday”.
Yet NCC commissioner Mamodupi Mohlala has said that
Levitt “orchestrated a mock auction with the intent to induce Appelbaum to participate in a flawed auction process so that she would offer an inflated price for Quoin Rock”.
Leygonie pushed up the price by R25 million - from Appelbaum’s opening bid of R30m to R55m.
Rupert, chief executive of luxury goods company Richemont, did not attend the auction and Basson never bid.
The NCC found Levitt guilty in March of contravening the Consumer Protection Act and fined Auction Alliance 10 percent of its annual turnover following the complaint Appelbaum lodged with the NCC in January.
The commission ruled that Levitt misled it in a written statement he handed to the commission, trying to “conceal the mock auction”.
Levitt had falsified the bidders’ record to cover up the mock auction, the commission said.
Levitt, who has defended “ghost bidding”, reportedly saying it was a legal auction industry norm, declined to appear before the NCC on March 5 and March 13. Shortly afterwards the NCC was told he had gone overseas.
In an e-mail to Weekend Argus yesterday, Levitt complained he was not receiving a “fair hearing”.
He also bemoaned having been “harassed by various members of the press”. - Sunday Argus