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Caveat emptor: Ichikowitz loses auction appeal

“This shows the law really is an ass,” says reigning ABSA Jewish Achiever, billionaire SA weapons maker Ivor Ichikowitz angrily remarked when at the end of March he lost a three-year-old court battle to declare an auction sale invalid because of “ghost bidding”.

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Ichikowitz is chairman of the Paramount Group, Africa’s biggest privately owned arms group, which inter alia makes armoured vehicles, surveillance drones and warships.

Ghost bidding, or vendor bidding occurs when an auctioneer pretends to have bids from non-existent bidders, to push up the bid. Ichikowitz had accused High Street Auctions of faking bids of a property he was buying. Ichikowitz in 2011 bought Thaba Phuti, a lodge and game farm near Rustenburg for R20 million.

Then there’s also “sham bidding”, which is illegal.

A video of the auction, according to Ichikowitz, showed auctioneer Joff van Reenen pretending to take bids from nonexistent buyers to push up the price. After a bid of R15 million was made by Ichikowitz, Van Reenen allegedly pretended there were other bidders in the room and only at a “bid” of R19,75 million, he called “you are out”, implying another bidder had dropped out.

What prompted Ichikowitz to review the auction sale, was Auction Alliance CEO Rael Levitt being accused of “ghost bidding”, when the 190ha Quion Rock estate in the Western Cape was auctioned on behalf of SARS in 2011. Another Jewish billionaire, Wendy Appelbaum, was one of six potential buyers who registered to bid for the estate. When Appelbaum would not go higher than her R55 million bid, “a person behind her” bid R60 million. He turned out to be a ghost bidder and Levitt confirmed Appelbaum’s R55 million bid as the winning one.

Although the sale was not concluded because the reserve price was R75 million, Appelbaum was furious when she realised she had not been bidding against a “real” bidder. Appelbaum laid a charge of fraud and it effectively meant the end of Auction Alliance.

But in Ichikowitz’ case, when he approached the court to have his 10 per cent deposit return to him and the sale declared invalid, the Supreme Court of Appeal on March 30 ruled that High Street had been clear enough and that Ichikowitz had only himself to blame for ignorance of the possibility of vendor bidding by the auctioneer.

The ruling confirms that “vendor bidding” is legal as long as potential buyers are made aware of it and the price is nudged up no further than the reserve price. If there is a reserve price, vendor bidding is not allowed.

The present court ruling is the first time the issue of vendor bidding has been tested in court. The court found that High Court had not stepped out of line and dismissed Ichikowitz’s appeal with costs.

The court found that “vendor bidding” is different from “sham bidding”, which is illegal. “Sham bidding are bids in terms of an underhand arrangement to artificially raise the sale price, or a non-existent bid represented as a real bid,” the court ruled.

Ichikowitz seemingly had not read the small print in which High Street said it would be acting for the sellers and would be making bids on their behalf. Van Reenen had also read out the rules before bidding started, but Ichikowitz admitted he “had not paid attention”.

Although “vendor bidding” seems to be common, not all auctioneers are comfortable with the practice and they suggested that an auctioneer identifying each bid, would go a long way to make the process more open and equitable.

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Shabbat Around The World beams out from Jozi

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More than 75 devices around the globe logged in to Beit Luria’s World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) Shabbat Around the World programme on Friday, 15 January.

Whether it was breakfast time in California, tea time in Europe, or time to break challah in Johannesburg, participants logged in to take part in Beit Luria’s Kabbalat Shabbat service.

Among those participating were Rabbi Sergio Bergman, the president of the WUPJ; chairperson Carole Sterling; and Rabbi Nathan Alfred, the head of international relations. Singers Tulla Eckhart and Brian Joffe performed songs from a global array of artists, along with Toto’s Africa to add a little local flair to the service. After kiddish was said and bread was broken, Rabbi Bergman thanked Beit Luria for hosting the WUPJ. The shul looks forward to more collaborations with its global friends in the future.

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UJW Sewing School graduates model creations

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The outfits modelled by graduates of the Union of Jewish Women’s (UJW’s) Sewing School were all the more spectacular for the fact that some of their creators had never seen a sewing machine prior to the four-month course.

They were modelled at the school’s graduation ceremony at Oxford Shul on 15 December to much excitement and applause.

UJW executive member and Sewing School Manager Ariane Heneck expressed her gratitude to Chido Tsodzo, the school’s superb teacher, and the event ended with a much appreciated lunch for graduates and their invited guests.

The self-empowerment Sewing School for unemployed men and women was started by the UJW 10 years ago. It now has a small production team of ex-students, and some of its graduates have been employed in factories, while others are selling their own creations.

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Israel Rugby 7s to camp with the Blitzbokke

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The thrill-a-minute Rugby 7s have captured the hearts of fans around the world. The Blitzbokke, South Africa’s national Rugby 7s team, ranks second in the world, and is among the most exciting, formidable, and feared of 7s teams.

Exactly 9 191 km away are the Israelis, an emerging rugby nation that has talent, determination, and a world-class coach in South African Kevin Musikanth. Now, these two squads will meet. The Israeli 7s side will be travelling to the SAS Rugby Academy in Stellenbosch to train with the Blitzbokke.

The Blitzbokke will have the opportunity to prepare for the coming 7s rugby season by measuring their skills of play against the Israelis. And the Israelis, well, they will be rubbing shoulders with, and learning from the best in the world and honing their skills for their coming European Rugby season.

“It’s an opportunity for our boys to learn from the world’s best,” says Musikanth. The SAS Rugby Academy is run by the legendary Frankie Horn, a technical expert whose coaching guidelines and methods are second to none in World Rugby 7s.

Musikanth took over as Rugby 15s head coach in Israel in 2018, and in October 2019, he became director of rugby for the Israeli Rugby Union and head coach for the national programmes of both the 15s and the 7s.

Horn visited Israel last December at the behest of Rugby Israel and its supporting Olympic body and since then, the partnership has continued to grow. The upcoming training camp will begin in Israel, where Horn, together with Phil Snyman, the former Blitzbok captain and multiple world champion winner, will spend a week with the players and coaching staff at Wingate, Netanya, the home base of Rugby Israel. They will then all travel to Stellenbosch for a week’s camp with the Blitzbokke.

“We’ve already seen the difference through our partnership with Frankie. Two of our players were spotted by him on his previous trip to Israel, and have been training at SAS on the off-season,” says Musikanth. The two players are Omer Levinson (scrum half) and Yotam Shulman (lock).

Horn, technical advisor to Rugby Israel’s 7s, says “It is a great opportunity for both teams to derive positive benefit from the camp.”

Israel Rugby has been making considerable professional strides since Musikanth took over the reins. Israel 15s played their 100th test match against Cyprus and celebrated with a 34-22 victory.

“We’re in the top 25 in Europe in 15s and in the top 16 in 7s, the toughest, most competitive continent in world rugby,” says Musikanth, “and I can realistically see us setting our sights on the Top 15 and Top 12 respectively in the future.”

Currently, there are three eligible South Africans who are on the Israeli national squad: Jayson Ferera as flanker (Pirates Rugby Club), Daniel Stein as fly half (studying in Israel), and Jared Sichel as prop (Hamilton’s Rugby Club, Cape Town). Eligibility to play for a national team in rugby is stricter than in other sports. One does not qualify just because one has a passport. One has to have had a parent or grandparent that was born in that country or one has to have lived in the country for at least three years.

“With so much Jewish rugby talent around the world, we would be able to put a world-class Israeli national team together if not for the measures that restrict eligibility to national call ups,” says Musikanth.

The Israel Rugby development project was accelerated thanks to Musikanth initiating Bridges through Rugby. This project is the collective effort of a few South African Jewish businessmen who appreciate the long-term vision of Israel becoming a stronger rugby nation. They have come on board to assist with this most opportune tour. National financial support is fixed and, as such, is limited. While the strong players and national coaches will be attending the training camp in Stellenbosch, there will be some that will, unfortunately, have to stay behind.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our players and coaches. To get to see the best upfront and feed off their knowledge is going to be incredible,” says Musikanth. “Everyone is eager to go, of course, but there is a cap to the support we have in place. We would like to take a development u20 squad as well as coaching staff who would carry the benefits of this into the future. A rugby visit to Stellenbosch can change rugby lives in many respects. Stellenbosch is rugby utopia!”

Rugby aside, with the Israelis and South Africans camping together, the question of what will be for dinner after a gruelling day’s training may be a matter of contention. A tussle for whether to serve boerewors or shwarma may result in a scrum in the SAS dining hall to determine the outcome.

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