Four items worth US$1,000 have been auctioned for a whopping $2.4 million in an unparalleled fraud as the press is closing in on the scandalous seller who shrouds himself in myths and fairies.
The "tu linh hoi tu"
According to auctioneers, the tu linh hoi tu - a set of four wooden figurines in the shapes of a dragon, a unicorn, a turtle and a phoenix - is a priceless treasure. Its starting price was set at $2 million during the event on November 11 in Ho Chi Minh City.
However, they could be all victims or are they?
The set belongs to 32-year-old Vo Ngoc Ha who claims to find the figurines in remote jungles, mountains and streams in Lam Dong province on the southern highlands after spending five years hunting them.
He claims that their animal-resembling shapes are purely by chance or in his words “completely made by heaven” and not carved or altered by a human hand.
He keeps a small notebook detailing his ‘journey’ to find the ‘treasures’.
As cited by Cong an nhan dan, he wrote that he heard strange bird chirpings, dreamt about a white dragon and was told in his sleep by heavenly beings, which led him to find the four wooden blocks at four different locations scattered across Lam Dong province.
Ha told Tuoi Tre he was once offered “millions of dollars” for his turtle sculpture but he declined because the objects are from “heaven”.
He wanted to auction them only to raise money for the poor as a tribute to his “heavenly luck”.
As agreed, Ha would pocket $1 million from the auction with the balance going to a charity fund for flood victims.
However, the truth is otherwise.
Cong an nhan dan reported that he bought the dragon figurine for a mere VND3 million ($160) from a wood shop in Lam Dong’s Lien Dam commune two months before the auction.
According to shop employees, that figurine looks extremely similar to the auctioned one they saw on TVs and newspapers.
The three remaining sculptures (unicorn, turtle and phoenix) could be purchased from another wood shop in Dai Lao commune not far away.
Tuoi Tre finds out this shop has sold Ha five or six wooden sculptures resembling animals and plants for a total VND16 million ($840).
This means the four auctioned figurines cost $1,000 at most.
Tran Van Tuan, owner of the latter shop told Tuoi Tre he himself owns a similar four-item set made from rare wood. It is “much more beautiful than Ha’s” but is worth VND400 million ($21,000) – a mere song compared to $2.4 million.
Cong an nhan dan also found Ha made certain arrangement to force-sell the items and employed a by-bidder.
According to the newspaper belonging to the police, Ha had his friend pose as a bidder and intentionally outbid others to falsely drive up the final price.
After winning the auction, this by-bidder ‘politely’ declined to buy them, reported Cong an nhan dan. The tu linh hoi tu was then automatically transferred to the next highest bidder.
But again, Hanoi-based Bao Long Ceramics Company refused to pay the $2.4 million, citing that the set was removed from the auction area and could be replaced by a ‘fake’.
Connoisseur or Sir Con?
Ha denied all accusations.
They are “priceless cultural artifacts”, Ha claimed, adding that connoisseurs consider it invaluable while common folks only see them as worthless wood blocks.
He told Tuoi Tre he endured treacherous trips to swamps, mountains, and forests to search for the four objects just to satisfy his hobbies.
I am not interested in making profits from them, he claimed.
“I only want to help the poor”.
“All are Ha’s tricks. There is no grain of truth in his stories”, concluded Cong an nhan dan.
The auction is part of a high profile charity event that attracted more than 1,000 entrepreneurs and 90 international beauties from Miss Earth pageant 2010.
Since then, the gala has been reduced to a laughing stock when various wrongdoings and jokes were unearthed including a lack of permit and lax management allowing hoaxers to place bids via bogus mobile phone numbers.
Tuoitrenews will continuously update information regarding this fraud. Please press F5 to refresh the page.