File photo: Masixole feni

Cape Town - Six evidence bags containing computer hard drives seized from Auction Alliance’s offices in 2012 have disappeared in what police say is a major blow to their criminal investigation.

The rest of the evidence, which includes more than 100 bags and 21 boxes, has been moved to the offices of auditing firm KPMG for safekeeping.

This emerged in a judgment handed down in the Western Cape High Court yesterday in an urgent application which the auction house lodged earlier this month, relating to the procedure police should follow when applying for a search warrant.

On August 7, 2012, countrywide raids were conducted at Auction Alliance offices, the home of its boss Rael Levitt and an accounting firm.

Shortly afterwards, Auction Alliance went to the High Court to challenge the constitutionality of the search warrants which authorised the raids and to interdict the police from viewing the seized material.

The dispute was settled and police undertook to hand over the seized items to the auction house’s lawyers to retain in sealed exhibit bags until September 7 that year or until the final determination of any application for a subpoena or search warrant brought before that date.

The following month, police launched a fresh application for a search warrant in the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court, which Auction Alliance and Levitt opposed.

In yesterday’s judgment, Judge Owen Rogers said the application for the warrant had been argued before an acting magistrate in April and the magistrate had reserved his judgment, asking the parties to file written submissions on preliminary questions raised.

However, by October, the magistrate had still not given his judgment. He wrote to the attorneys saying he suspected his contract would not be renewed because the deputy minister of justice was reluctant to extend the contracts of magistrates beyond three months.

He wrote a second letter in January in which he advised the matter be argued afresh before another magistrate.

In light of the second letter, the police decided to prepare a fresh application for a search warrant, Judge Rogers said.

It was around this time that Auction Alliance’s attorneys alerted the police to the fact that some of the items had been moved around while in storage in order to make way for other material and some of the bags had been torn.

They invited police to do an inspection, which was carried out on January 29 and 30.

“It is unnecessary to go into detail. Although some of the evidence bags which had previously been intact were now found to be torn, this seems to have been because their contents were very heavy.

“The contents were repacked into smaller exhibit bags and resealed.

“The real point of concern for (the police) was six evidence bags which had been on the signed handover list could no longer be found. These bags contained computer hard drives. (The police) regard their loss as a serious blow to the criminal investigation,” Judge Rogers said.

A combination of the magistrate’s letter and the result of the inspections led police to take the issue to the High Court earlier this month.

Since then, the parties agreed the items should be transferred to KPMG and the agreement was made an order of court.

Weekend Argus