Schandaal Steinhoff: the former CEO denies any wrongdoing

Schandaal Steinhoff: the former CEO denies any wrongdoing

The former boss of the South African giant Steinhoff distribution, Markus Jooste, for a research committee in Cape Town, 5 September 2018RODGER BOSCH

The former boss of the South African giant Steinhoff distribution, Markus Jooste, erroneously denied on Wednesday Wednesday the financial scandal that caused almost the bankruptcy of the group, the mother house of Conforama, last year.

Target of all suspicions, Mr. Jooste delivered his first public explanation of the case to a committee of inquiry of the Parliament for three hours.

"I want it to be noticed that when I left Steinhoff on December 5, 2017, I was not aware of financial irregularities, contrary to what was being said," he said. game entry declared to the deputies.

"I have never lied about the company's business," he emphasized, "I have not been informed of any deliberate violation of the Steinhoff Code of Conduct".

The scandal erupted on December 6, 2017, when Steinhoff announced the resignation of Markus Jooste and discovered a "$ 6 billion" gap in his accounts. The news has reduced the share price of the group by 95%, the debt of which is now estimated at more than 10 billion euros.

The case caused an earthquake in South Africa, where the group is one of the most important market capitalisations of Johannesburg.

The turnaround in the price of its shares has placed the main pension fund of officials in the country, which holds nearly 9% of its capital in difficulty.

The biggest shareholder of the group, the South African billionaire Christo Wiese, according to Bloomberg has seen his personal fortune evaporate from € 4.2 billion to € 1.75 billion.

Mr. Wiese has meanwhile taken the case to recover 59 billion rand (almost 4 billion euros) that he had invested in Steinhoff.

Jooste, who is now being investigated for fraud by the South African police, said Wednesday that he himself lost 175 million euros at the collapse of Steinhoff.

– & # 39; Strategic error & # 39; –

For prudent delegates, he attributed most of the financial difficulties of the group to an unfortunate alliance with the German group Seiffert in 2007.

"The biggest strategic mistake we made was choosing the wrong partner," he said, "we grew up too quickly and in far too many countries."

Originally from South Africa, the group was born in the last few years from an outrageous business acquisition.

Today, Steinhoff is present in about 30 countries, with brands in Europe such as Conforama, sponsor of three-country football Ligue 1 and Poundland, the British chain of stores with one price.

"I feel completely responsible for what happened for the reasons I mentioned," he repeated.

When asked why he resigned, Markus Jooste spoke about his opposition to an audit of the accounts imposed by Deloitte's Board of Directors.

"I will not leave after 29 years of seniority," said one deputy, Mkhuleko Hlengwe. "We order a new audit and you leave (…) be honest".

"I told the board that the new study would not take me two years and I knew it would put the company in uncertainty," Jooste said, "my personal financial loss has nothing to do with my departure (…) I wanted them to make the right decision for the company. "

"You appear before us as Mother Theresa Steinhoff," the chairman of the committee, Yunus Carrim, scoffed.

"Do not you think you can say something more?" Continue Carrim without hiding his frustration. "If things were as you said, how could this lead to the biggest financial scandal in the history of the country?"

"The biggest bankruptcy of companies in South Africa, yes," corrected Markus Jooste, sure of himself, "the scandal of the word is only used by those who make sensationalism …"

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