Markus Jooste, who quit as head of Steinhoff International Holdings NV in December amid an accounting scandal, oversaw a complex series of transactions where decisions made by the South African retailer benefited him personally, company filings show.
In a set of property deals reviewed by Bloomberg, companies linked to Jooste and Steinhoff associates profited by hundreds of millions of rands between 2002 and 2007. Steinhoff said it has handed information about Jooste to the police and the former CEO hasn’t spoken publicly since quitting the company despite being summoned to appear before parliament twice.
His lawyer, Callie Albertyn, said at the time that Jooste wouldn’t appear because any statements he made could undermine his right to a fair trial at a later date because he believed he will probably be prosecuted.
With Jooste at the helm, Steinhoff began buying Johannesburg-based logistics firm Unitrans in 2000. Two years later Unitrans, with Jooste and Steinhoff’s current interim Chief Executive Officer Danie van der Merwe on its board, sold the land upon which dozens of car dealerships were based to a closely held company that later made payments that ultimately went to a firm Jooste controlled.
In 2007, Steinhoff bought some of those properties from the Jooste-linked company at a multiple of their original value and the profit eventually flowed to another firm controlled by Jooste.
The series of deals and the layered company structures are an example of how the assets of Steinhoff, which has lost 97% of its market value since disclosing the accounting irregularities in December, may have been used to benefit Jooste and some of his associates. Steinhoff has expanded outside South Africa to as far afield as Austria, the UK and the US.
While Steinhoff said it forwarded information about Jooste to an investigative unit of the South African Police Service earlier this year, it’s not clear whether criminal probes have started. PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, called in by Steinhoff in December to investigate the finances, has said it’s probing at least as far back as 2015.
In addition to Jooste and the man who became his son-in-law, Stefan Potgieter, several Steinhoff executives were directors of the companies that moved the proceeds of deals to Mayfair Speculators, where Jooste was the only director in 2007, filings show. Mayfair Speculators bought racehorses and luxury estates.
Unitrans referred queries to Steinhoff, while Steinhoff said it can’t comment until the investigation it commissioned PwC to carry out is complete. Jooste’s lawyer, Albertyn, didn’t respond to questions sent to him by Bloomberg. Danie van der Merwe said he has been advised not to comment on matters that may be subject to the investigation, with which he is cooperating.
“Every week, every month, more is coming out,” said Ron Klipin, an analyst at Cratos Capital. “People were in awe of Jooste. He was increasing the company’s global footprint, he was catching up with the number one peer in the market, he could do nothing wrong.”
An example of the over-valuation of the 33 properties sold by Erfvest to Steinhoff can be shown in the transactions linked to one plot, 28 Lake Avenue in Benoni, east of Johannesburg.
The land, a little bigger than two tennis courts, is on a street lined by dilapidated buildings in an industrial area. Three nearby stands on that road sold for an average of R670 000 in 2007, online records at Property24 show. Clidet bought it in 2002 for R4.79 million and, after changing its name to Erfvest, sold the plot to Steinhoff’s property unit in 2007 for R33.7 million, records show.
“ ‘The PwC investigation into Steinhoff will identify what went wrong and who is responsible. Everyone in the company, including me, is subject to investigations and findings’ in the PwC probe, acting CEO Danie van der Merwe said by email. ‘I have fully cooperated with the investigation and will continue to do so.’”