I feel betrayed by these people, says Christo Wiese

24 March 2019 - 00:17 By NTANDO THUKWANA

Steinhoff's biggest shareholder and former chair, Christo Wiese, feels betrayed by the disgraced furniture retailing giant's management and executives.
The retailer, which once had ambitions of becoming the emerging-market version of Sweden's Ikea, has been on the brink of collapse since accounting irregularities came to light in December 2017.
A PwC report alleges that under former CEO Markus Jooste, the company was found to have overstated its income through irregular transactions, fictitious profit and assets, over the course of nine years.
"I do [feel betrayed]. These are people in whom not only I, but the board and all the shareholders and all the stakeholders, have placed huge trust," Wiese, who has personally lost billions from the collapse of the retailer's shares, said.
Despite the more than 96% plunge in Steinhoff's share price since the scandal broke, Wiese said he had no intention of letting go of his 6.2% stake.
"The PwC report makes it very clear that the executives named have been committing the fraud at Steinhoff for a number of years, and that consequently I was a victim of that fraud because I accepted Steinhoff paper in exchange for Pepkor. From a legal point of view there is absolutely no doubt that I have a valid claim against the company."
Pushed by lawmakers this week, Steinhoff CEO Louis du Preez listed the top eight executives behind SA's biggest corporate scandal, namely Jooste, former CFO Ben le Grange, Dirk Schreiber, Stehan Grobler, Siegmar Schmidt, Alan Evans, Jean-Noel Pasquier and Davide Romano.
Both Jooste and Le Grange last year stood before parliament and denied being privy to the skulduggery at Steinhoff.
Wiese launched a R59bn lawsuit against Steinhoff last year through his company, the Titan Group. In the lawsuit, Wiese is claiming repayment for shares Titan subscribed for after the sale of Pepkor, and the repayment of a cash injection it made to Steinhoff to help meet its debt obligations when it was in the process of acquiring US-based Mattress Firm.
Wiese believes no other individuals are implicated in the Steinhoff scandal and adds that it is "important that the report makes it clear that nobody else in the company is implicated in the fraud apart from the people that have been named".
"The PwC report has found that there is no indication that any nonexecutive directors at any stage were aware of the irregularities," he said.
"The correct way forward is for the company to do a settlement with all its stakeholders, that is including the shareholders, and creditors should all reach a settlement as to how the assets are to be divided."
The company said it is now following through on a remedial plan that would enhance governance within the Steinhoff group and pursue a recovery of losses incurred. It also said it would consider litigation options against those implicated.
The National Prosecuting Authority has appointed two senior prosecutors to the case who said they will fast-track the investigations into the retailer and ensure that those implicated are urgently brought to book.

This article is reserved for Sunday Times subscribers.

A subscription gives you full digital access to all Sunday Times content.

Already subscribed? Simply sign in below.

Registered on the BusinessLIVE, Business Day, Financial Mail or Rand Daily Mail websites? Sign in with the same details.

Questions or problems? Email helpdesk@timeslive.co.za or call 0860 52 52 00.