Levitt admits career going, going, gone
RAEL Levitt has broken his silence - admitting he made mistakes at an auction that forced him to quit his job.
But the embattled businessman said his mistakes did not warrant a "personal public attack" that caused him to be "demonised" in South Africa.
Levitt, who declined to disclose his whereabouts, said in e-mail correspondence to the Sunday Times that he was battling to come to terms with the demise of an empire he built selling property on the Cape Flats.
It is the first time he has spoken since Auction Alliance was found guilty of contravening the Consumer Protection Act during the auction of Dave King's wine estate - knocked down to billionaire Wendy Appelbaum for R55-million.
Levitt has not testified before the National Consumer Commission, and NCC commissioner Mamodupi Mohlala this week said she will subpoena Auction Alliance chairman Sango Ntsaluba to testify at the commission. Ntsaluba could not be reached.
Levitt said: "My downfall as South Africa's leading auctioneer started with the Quoin Rock auction ... that went pear-shaped. I made some mistakes at that auction and I am sincerely sorry about them.
"I was the country's most high-profile auctioneer and I have taken the brunt for an entire industry.
"The public has focused on ghost bidding as if it was unique to me ... 'Ghost' or vendor bidding happens every day, in every way in every auction across the globe from venerable art auctions in London, to real estate auctions in Sydney and cattle auctions in Texas," he said.
Levitt said the Quoin Rock auction had hurt Auction Alliance. "Auction Alliance is slowly winding down. It is fully solvent, it is still operating but the negative media has made its long-term future unsustainable.
"Yes, we made mistakes. Yes, I made mistakes. But we employed hundreds of people. Good people ... I am deeply saddened about the job losses. My first, second and third employee all had to be retrenched. My late father's legal secretary, whom I promised my dad I would employ, lost her job together with many other people when we downsized," he said.
"I left Auction Alliance because I thought that I could save the business by freeing it from the negative media that was engulfing me.
"It was one of the saddest days of my life. I loved that business more than I should have and walking away was the most painful decision I have ever made."
Levitt added: "I have stumbled and fallen but I still have great faith in the future of the auction business in South Africa. Sadly, I will not be part of it."
Asked where he was, Levitt said: "I have ... travelled extensively, including being in the US and Israel. I needed a break after all the negative events in February and March and I will be back in South Africa soon."
But Appelbaum said yesterday: "At the end of the day being a scapegoat doesn't make what he did right. If everybody does something and you do it too it doesn't make it OK."
On Wednesday the Pretoria Magistrate's Court denied an application by Mohlala for an arrest warrant for Levitt, saying the NCC's subpoena had not been correctly served.
Mohlala this week served a new subpoena, giving Levitt 14 working days to appear before the commission.
Levitt's attorney Alan Smiedt said he had been instructed to review the NCC ruling on the Quoin Rock auction. "We are in the process of preparing papers in this regard". - firstname.lastname@example.org