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Thursday Jun 21, 2012

Auctioneer Levitt wins court battle

Three summonses issued to former Auction Alliance boss Rael Levitt and two other employees have been declared invalid and inconsistent with the constitution by the Western Cape High Court.

Acting Judge Rob Stelzner handed down judgment in the matter yesterday.

Levitt was not present during yesterday's court proceedings.

Levitt, chairman Sango Ntsaluba and Auction Alliance's chief financial officer and acting CEO, Bruce Sneddon, had challenged the validity of the summonses, issued in April. The summonses called on them to appear before the National Consumer Commission (NCC) for questioning on May 4.

While handing down judgment, Judge Stelzner said before the summonses, dated April 12, had been issued, these actions had been taken:

On March 30, National Consumer Commissioner Mamodupi Mohlala sent out a media statement about Auction Alliance.

In the media statement, it said a panel set up by the commission to investigate billionaire Wendy Appelbaum's complaint about the auction of a wine estate, Quoin Rock, in December had found Levitt and Auction Alliance "guilty of conducting a mock auction" using a ghost bidder to drive up the price.

Mohlala had concluded the media statement by saying a compliance notice would be issued to Auction Alliance.

This compliance notice was signed on April 4.

Judge Stelzner said the grounds on which Levitt and his two colleagues challenged the summonses included that since the hearing into the Quoin Rock matter had been finalised, the NCC did not have the power to then afterwards issue the summons to them for that same matter, as it had already been wrapped up.

"The commissioner's decisions to issue the media statement and the compliance notice... precluded the commissioner from issuing the current summonses against the applicants, on the grounds that she had already decided their fate, was clearly biased and any further enquiry would be an evidence-gathering exercise for purposes of a criminal trial," the judgment said.

Mohlala did not have the authority to conduct an investigation into suspected crimes, as the National Prosecuting Authority and police were the authorities with these powers.

Judge Stelzner said the NCC and Mohlala conceded in answering papers that the NCC had no power to make any costs order, and therefore summons could not be issued to question Levitt and his two colleagues about this.

He said by conceding that the summons had not been issued with regard to Auction Alliance paying Appelbaum's legal costs, the NCC and Mohlala had "impliedly accepted" that the summons could not have been issued for any other complaint outside her jurisdiction.

Judge Stelzner said the decision by the NCC and/or Mohlala to issue the three summonses was reviewed and set aside. He ruled the NCC and Mohlala bear the costs of the application.

Cape Times

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