Top auctioneer in new court row

12 February 2012 - 02:00
UNDER FIRE: Rael Levitt
UNDER FIRE: Rael Levitt

Auctioneer Rael Levitt - under fire over a R55-million farm sale to billionaire Wendy Appelbaum - has been drawn into a second legal row, this time involving architect Dennis Fabian.

Levitt, who heads the R6-billion-a-year Auction Alliance empire, is suing Appelbaum for defamation after a bitter wrangle over a wine farm auction in Stellenbosch.

This week it emerged that his company is a defendant in a long-running dispute over an upmarket Cape Town beachfront property, auctioned in 2008 to millionaire Suzette Main.

Main, who is Appelbaum's former sister-in-law, has since converted the property into a trendy, upmarket restaurant, but alleges the sale took place under false pretences.

She is now hauling the former owners and Levitt to court.

According to documents in the High Court in Cape Town, she claims that the property was advertised with "approved plans" for further development.

On that basis, she paid R44-million for the property, which without the plans had a normal market value of around R20-million. She is disputing whether the site had "approved plans".

Advertising material obtained from Auction Alliance reveals the property in Victoria Road, a prime tourist destination, was sold by a business consortium involving the Fabian brothers.

The brothers are architect Dennis, whose firm designed Sol Kerzner's One&Only Hotel, Jeffrey, who owns clothing line Fabiani, and Selwyn.

They had bought the property in 2004 for R14.5-million.

An auction information pack details a site development plan: "Approval has been granted for the removal and amendment of restrictive title conditions and departures to allow for such development."

Auction Alliance managed the auction, which was also advertised in the Sunday Times.

Main's winning R44-million offer to purchase worked out at R92000/m² for the 495m² stand.

The Sunday Times was last week subpoenaed to produce the May 2008 auction adverts to be submitted as evidence.

The adverts featured a "Platinum mile redevelopment opportunity in the heart of Africa's riviera, world-class position, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Approved plans for four shops, 11 apartments, two levels of parking (17 bays) and 11 storerooms."

City council spokesman Kylie Hatton said the site was zoned "general business", but it was unclear if a site development plan had been approved.

Main was previously married to Appelbaum's brother, Richard Gordon, the son of Liberty Life founder Sir Donald Gordon.

She later married Paul Main, a polo-playing businessman with links to slain mining magnate Brett Kebble.

Contacted in London this week, Main would only say: "We are just waiting for a court date."

She started legal proceedings long before the controversial Quoin Rock wine estate auction involving Appelbaum.

Her legal representative, Robert Driman, declined to comment.

Maurice Phillips, legal representative of Rowmoor Investments 513, the Fabian brothers' company that sold the property, also declined to comment.

Dennis Fabian is a world-class architect whose firm has designed landmark hotels in Cape Town and the upmarket Amalfi residential development in Mouille Point.

Amalfi was co-developed by Ariel Gerbi, the Israeli businessman identified by Auction Alliance as the man who bid against Appelbaum for Quoin Rock.

Levitt confirmed the pending court case and questioned why his company had been drawn into the dispute.

His attorney, Charl Pienaar, said: "There were approved plans [for the Camps Bay property] at the time of the auction, but, as far as the alleged misrepresentation is concerned, we regret that we can't comment because of the sub judice rule."

Levitt launched defamation proceedings against Appelbaum this week for her comments about the Quoin Rock auction.

In an e-mail to the Sunday Times in January, Appelbaum claimed the auction was "fundamentally flawed".

Levitt denied hoodwinking Appelbaum, but conceded the auction did not start on time.

Appelbaum reacted to the defamation suit, saying: "I am not intimidated by Levitt's bully-boy tactics and welcome the opportunity that he has afforded us to test his, and Auction Alliance's, reputation and practices in open court."

The National Consumer Commission is investigating a complaint by Appelbaum over the Quoin Rock auction.