THE Consumer Commission said it was "taken aback" by an order issued yesterday by the Consumer Tribunal, which set aside the compliance notice it had issued against Auction Alliance and its former CEO, Rael Levitt.

The tribunal did not give its reasons for the decision, saying it would do so later.

This was not the first time the Consumer Commission had been sent to the drawing board by the tribunal. The commissioner, Mamodupi Mohlala-Mulaudzi, expressed shock at the decision and said the commission had done "everything required in terms of the Consumer Protection Act and the rules" in its investigation to put a solid case.

Ms Mohlala-Mulaudzi said the commission was awaiting the tribunal's reasons and "intended taking their decision on review".

"We are also taken aback by the decision as we have a statement from Mr Levitt, where he indicates that he has breached the provisions of the act," she said.

The tribunal had on previous occasions also set aside the compliance notices issued to the City of Johannesburg and Vodacom. The commission's application for the confirmation of a consent order regarding the compliance notice against Auction Alliance and the liquidators was dismissed by the tribunal last month.

The commission and the liquidators wanted the tribunal to confirm an agreement reached between them to have certain references to the liquidators in the compliance notice struck out. The tribunal rejected the application and instead continued to hear evidence from the parties in the review application by Auction Alliance to have the notice in its totality set aside, which the tribunal had now done.

Smiedt & Associates Attorneys, for Auction Alliance, said the company had been proven correct in its assertions that the Consumer Commission failed to follow the process set out in the Consumer Protection Act.

The notice followed a complaint by businesswoman Wendy Appelbaum to the commission in January after the auction of the Quoin Rock estate at Stellenbosch, conducted by Auction Alliance in December.

The commission said it found "overwhelming evidence" that Auction Alliance and its former CEO Rael Levitt contravened the Consumer Protection Act by conducting a "mock auction".

The commission issued the compliance notice in April after the complaint by Ms Appelbaum, who alleged that Auction Alliance had placed a ghost bidder at the auction of the Quoin Rock wine estate to drive up the price.

In the compliance notice, the commission asked that Ms Appelbaum be placed in the position she would have been in had it not been for the misconduct of Mr Levitt in his capacity as CEO of Auction Alliance.

Ms Mohlala-Mulaudzi said yesterday: "We intend to appeal, because to leave it unchallenged will result in Ms Appelbaum losing her remedy."

vissera@bdfm.co.za