Auction Alliance in alleged money-making racket

Auction company Auction Alliance has allegedly been colluding with banks, liquidators and attorneys in a money-making racket, according to reports on Saturday.

The Saturday Star has reported that a 13-year paper trail revealed that the company had paid kickbacks to attorneys, liquidators and bank staff to ensure business went its way.

The report claimed CEO and founder Rael Levitt said in emails the kickbacks would be paid “in cash”.

The paper’s sources claimed two staff members at Investec were paid large sums of money to ensure the company received preferential treatment.

A former Absa bank manager in Gauteng was “ousted” by employers some years back when a kickback trail revealed him as the alleged recipient.

Taught to rig
The kickbacks were typically 50% of the commission Auction Alliance earned. These rose up to 75% during market slumps—to ensure business in bad times.

The company also reportedly trained auctioneers on how to rig an auction and told them what to do if they were caught.

The newspaper reported that five insiders wrote affidavits supporting their allegations, which they said were supported by reams of documents.

Billionaire Wendy Appelbaum was disputing the legality of an auction where she bought the wine estate Quoin Rock.

Appelbaum claimed she later found out she was the only genuine bidder and consequently lodged a complaint with the National Consumer Commission, citing irregularities. Levitt responded by suing her for defamation.

Vendor bidding
Appelbaum’s bid was later rejected by the estate’s liquidators.

Levitt has denied all the allegations, calling them “defamatory”. He said it was not uncommon for law firms to refer auctions to auctioneers and when they did, they could agree to give the attorney concerned a referral commission.

“We leave it to the attorney to make the necessary disclosure to their clients,” he said.

He said the practice was long-standing and widely accepted in the industry.

Vendor bidding—the practice of a seller bidding on their own stock to drive up bid prices—was “internationally and nationally regarded as an acceptable and lawful auction industry practice”, he said.

Competitive industry
Levitt also published a rebuttal alongside the newspaper’s story.

He attributed the allegations to the competitive nature of the industry and disgruntled former employees.

In an open letter published in a full page of the newspaper, Levitt said he had approached a High Court asking them to interdict the newspaper and prevent them from publishing the story because his side wasn’t expressed in his own words.

“We do not resort to unethical and corrupt practices to secure business deals,” he said.—Sapa

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