Warsaw: Anette Mattsson had bid 200,000 euros (USD 226,500) for a prized gray Arabian mare but soon stopped.
With the price rising rapidly and no sign of other bidders, she sensed that something strange was going on at the annual Pride of Poland sale on August 14.
Mattsson, a Swedish breeder with 27 years of auction experience, was not alone in suspecting something was off in the bidding for a purebred Arabian named Emira. In the week since, the sale has become a political scandal, making Emira a household name and prompting calls for a criminal investigation.
Whatever truly happened, the suspicions have dealt a blow to the reputation of an Arabian horse breeding program considered among the best in the world and which many Poles cherish as a national treasure.
Many people suspect that someone made fake bids to drive prices higher at the auction on the famed Janow Podlaski stud farm, a state-run enterprise in eastern Poland, an allegation the authorities strongly deny.
Those who suspect wrongdoing believe that state officials would have acted to ensure a successful auction, which was considered a major test of new management.
fter Mattsson pulled out, Emira’s price kept rising, finally declared as sold for 550,000 euros. Unlike the other sales that evening, no buyer was identified. At the end of the auction, Emira was brought back and put up for sale again.
Mattsson said she saw that coming. Following her first, failed bid, a bid taker asked her how much she would pay for the mare.
“I said, ‘well, you sold her.’ He said again, ‘how much are you willing to pay for Emira?'” Mattsson recalled.
Eventually she and another Polish official agreed on 200,000 euros and shook hands, only for him to back out a short while later. The mare was put up for auction again.
Mattson then placed the top bid, 225,000 euros, for a client in Qatar.
“Now people are saying that Polish sales are fake,” said George Zbyszewski, the manager of Hennessey Arabians in Ocala, Florida. “This sale lost the stud’s reputation. It was destroyed in one evening.”
The program was fighting for its reputation after a political purge of three top breeders in February by the country’s new right-wing government. Power shifts in Poland typically bring management changes in state enterprises, but the firing of the breeders was extremely controversial because it hit three respected professionals Marek Trela, Jerzy Bialobok and Anna Stojanowska who had worked for many years on the farms and produced world-class horses sought out by celebrities, Arab sheikhs and other millionaires