’Twas beautiful, as all great swindles are
GEORGE SUSPECTS THAT the auctioneer and his gang of friends have cheated him. He wishes he could do something about it, and that his mates would stop laughing every time they see the Persian rugs and the paintings he bought.
What’s of concern, is that it would appear that unethical behaviour – and dishonesty – are accepted as the norm in SA. A few weeks ago, George received a flyer in the post advertising an auction of paintings and furniture by Status Auctioneers. Apparently based in Johannesburg, the auctioneer and his assistants travel by truck from town to town, transporting their wares and the popular Persian rugs. In the fullness of time, George and his wife attended the auction, which started off on a friendly note with coffee and a chat. There were of course other bidders present. And, they bought a few paintings and rugs for their new house.
There were eight bidders in the audience. Unbeknown to the two couples bidding quite innocently on the items up for auction, the other four art lovers were not really buying the stuff to take home and cherish. Bidding against the other four players made their wallets lighter and the auctioneer merrier.
A few days later, the auctioneer’s truck was parked in front of the library. Looking in quickly to say hello, George found the same people bidding as at the previous auction, with the addition of one other couple. Also interesting, was that some of the paintings bought by the friendly coffee drinkers were up for sale again.
Now the thing with paintings is that they are not all alike. Unless you’re an expert, you cannot really tell if the Persian rug sold yesterday, is the same as the one on auction today to the same bloke. However, your powers of visual discernment would have to be so faint as to render you virtually blind, if you found yourself unable to recognise the same painting by Maggie Laubser or Adriaan Boshoff that you saw being sold only three days before. George asked the “buyer” of a large Cassey van der Leeck, why the painting he bought at the previous auction was up for sale again (among others), and why he was bidding on it only 72 hours later. The poor soul could not a n swe r . In fact, he started hyperventilating.
The auctioneer, however, had no such problems. He followed the script of indignant innocence to the letter, threatening poor George with legal action, for everything – from disrupting his business to trespassing.
Three days later, there appeared an advertisement in the local newspaper inviting people to an auction of exotic furniture, paintings and Persian carpets. This ad looked the same as those stuck in the post boxes, but placed by another auctioneer. Or not?
A quick visit to the city hall revealed the same truck, the same auctioneer and the same paintings. Yes, even the same eager bidders.
This time, the door is manned by an assistant, whose job it is to point out that the right of admission is reserved (as had been stated in the leaflet). Intrepid souls, bold enough to enter, are quickly reminded by the auctioneer that he has a nasty lawyer.
We all know that auctioneers may have a friend in the audience to place a bid from time to time, to help prices along. We accept, and actually expect, this without debating whether it’s ethical or not.
But when does something like this cross the line from being unethical to being fraudulent and thus a criminal offence punishable by a few months behind bars? A case of buyers beware, or the basis for a visit to the local branch of the SAPS?
In this case, the goods up for sale did not belong to some unfortunate soul who had made a few bad decisions and found the sheriff at the door, but to the auctioneers themselves. The fact that there were more jockeys in the audience, to push up the prices, than real buyers – smacks of chicanery at best – and of planned criminal activity at worst. It was not an event where ethics and high professional standards could be expected to prevail.
Over the last few years, “formal” business has embarked on strategies to counter criminal acts at all levels. For instance, JSE rules and regulations with regard to share dealings are much stricter than a decade ago, as are steps taken by banks and financial institutions when opening and using bank accounts. Even Government departments seem to enforce regulations better.
Unfortunately, there are still some holes in the spirit of compliance to the law of zero tolerance. We see this in business, we see it on the road, and we see it in attacks on people who have the courage to uphold this law.
At least the new paintings are beautiful, even though they cost a few thousand rand more than they would have, had the young man with the breathing problems been gainfully employed. ¤