Embattled Steinhoff closes in on ‘rogue’ executives
JOHANNESBURG – Embattled retailer Steinhoff International on Wednesday told legislators in Parliament that it was in the process of implementing claims against executives and directors implicated in the financial irregularities that nearly brought the company to its knees in 2017.
The group said that it had also engaged law enforcement agencies to bring those responsible to book.
Chief executive Louis Du Preez said the group had granted the Hawks and National Prosecuting Authority access to the PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report for potential criminal charges against those implicated. Du Preez said there was no benefit for Steinhoff not to co-operate with the Hawks.
“This group has got two options and we as the management team under the leadership of the advisory board must either try to save the company or must take the decision to liquidate it,” Du Preez said. “We have taken the decision to try to save the group. By doing that we have to take into consideration the interest of stakeholders not just in South Africa. By handing over the report that will influence other stakeholders.”
The group said that it had initiated further forensic investigations, including possible claims against third parties and entities involved.
In March, Steinhoff released an 11-page summary of the 3 000-page PwC report, it said the report was "privileged".
Lawmakers, however, accused the group and law enforcement agencies of dragging their feet on those responsible for the irregularities.
MPs wanted to know why it was taking so long to prosecute the people responsible for the country's biggest business scandal that brought the company to the brink of collapse in December 2017.
Joe Maswanganyi, parliament's finance committee chairperson, blamed Steinhoff for reneging on its commitment to co-operate with law enforcement.
Maswanganyi warned the company against withholding the report.
“It means we have a law for the poor and a law for the rich. If this does not happen by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the Hawks, it will undermine your credibility forever. You will not have done what you were meant to do. Once you start pursuing poor people because they do not have the lawyers that Steinhoff has, people are going to question you,” Maswanganyi said.
The regional head of the NPA’s serious commercial crimes unit, Marshall Mokgatle, said the Hawks had gleaned the PwC report at the PwC offices in Midrand.
“Upon reading the report, it became apparent that that particular forensic report was for accounting irregularities, and that is it. Meaning it will serve prosecution no purpose going forward, but it will help the police with pointers to investigate further,” Mokgatle said.
Mokgatle said complex cases of this nature took a very long time.
“This is one-of-a-kind case. I have been with the service 20 years and we have never had a case of this magnitude with multiple jurisdictions, but the team appointed to guide this case, those are the best we have,” he said.