Rael Levitt, the former CEO of Auction Alliance (AA), recently lost his battle to prevent the Hawks from investigating allegations of fraud, corruption and money laundering against himself and the company he founded. The judgment, handed down by the constitutional court on the last day of March, dismissed the case on the grounds that it bore no prospect of success.
What started it all was a dodgy auction conducted by the 44-year-old Levitt at the end of 2011 when he apparently attempted to illegally drive up the price of a wine farm that billionaire heiress Wendy Appelbaum was bidding for.
Appelbaum found herself bidding against an unknown man from the working class suburb of Bellville. When she questioned this, it transpired she was the victim of so-called ghost bidding, the illegal trick through which “plants” are placed on an auction floor to drive up prices, unknown to the genuine bidder or potential buyer.
In the weeks that followed, a number of former AA staff co-operated with the media to expose not only bid rigging, but allegations and evidence of serious fraud and corruption that appeared commonplace in AA.
As AA was then the country’s biggest auction firm by a large margin, the amounts in question were substantial. By the end of that month, Levitt had been forced to step down as AA’s CEO. Within a few short months the company he had started in the 1990s had folded and the Hawks were on his trail, probing what many believe could yet be the largest case of financial wrongdoing in the history of the country, once all is told.