AN ANTICORRUPTION task team yesterday raided 13 premises of Auction Alliance, the firm embroiled in allegations over kickbacks to liquidators, bank staff and attorneys, and alleged to have placed ghost bidders at auctions to push up prices.
AMANDA VISSER | DB LIVE
Hawks spokesman McIntosh Polela confirmed that a task team conducted search and seizure operations at five Auction Alliance premises in the Western Cape, five in Gauteng and one each in Port Elizabeth, Bloemfontein and Durban.
He said the raids were related to a criminal investigation into allegations of kickbacks and corruption triggered by a complaint by businesswoman Wendy Appelbaum about the manner in which an auction was held in December last year.
The task team consists of officials from the Hawks, the Special Investigating Unit, the Treasury, the National Prosecuting Authority and the South African Revenue Service.
"We are looking for anything that can assist us in our investigation. We are looking for paper and electronic documents, but we are not restricting ourselves to anything," Mr Polela said.
He said the investigation was continuing and no formal charges against the company or any of its staff had been formulated. There were no prospects of arrests at this stage, he said.
Bruce Sneddon, former chief financial officer of Auction Alliance, said yesterday he had no information about the company and was not aware of the raids.
Auction Alliance attorney Alan Smiedt said the investigators had provided him with "certain documents" that, on the face of it, had been issued "unlawfully and unconstitutionally" and in violation of his clients’ rights.
"In the circumstances, we are considering the various remedies available to our clients and we will take the necessary action to remedy this violation," Mr Smiedt said.
Mr Polela said the probe by the Consumer Commission, which has been hobbled by a compliance notice against Auction Alliance being set aside by a high court, had no bearing on their investigation.
The trouble started with a R55m sale in December of a Cape winelands estate, Quoin Rock, to Ms Appelbaum, which led her to question the ethics and legality of the auction.
The company is also a defendant in a long-running dispute over an upmarket Cape Town beachfront property, auctioned in 2008 to millionaire Suzette Main.
Former Auction Alliance CEO Rael Levitt is suing Ms Appelbaum for defamation. After 20 years at the company, Mr Levitt resigned in February, insisting that this should not be construed as an admission or acknowledgement of any impropriety, illegality or wrongdoing on his part.
He also offered his resignation from the South African Institute of Auctioneers, which allowed him to "step back" until the investigation into his company was complete.
Mr Levitt said "ghost bidding" was a common practice at auctions in SA and across the world — which was vehemently denied by the institute.
Last week, Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale placed the Estate Agency Affairs Board under administration and called on the Special Investigating Unit to probe its affairs.
There have been numerous complaints from the property industry about the board, which has been accused of failing to provide guidance to the property sector.