Markus Jooste. Reuters
Former Steinhoff International chief executive Markus Jooste has filed opposing papers at the Western Cape High Court against the group’s R850 million claim against him to recoup excessive salary and bonus payments over an eight-year period when he was at the helm of the furniture retailer.

The move, seen as having the possibility to prolong the saga, follows Steinhoff last month launching proceedings against Jooste and its former chief financial officer Ben La Grange to recover certain salary and bonus payments paid to them before 2017.

The claim comes after Jooste, La Grange, Dirk Schreiber and Stehan Grobler, as well as four other people, were cited in the 15-month forensic probe report by PricewaterhouseCoopers published in March as having been involved in fictitious and/or irregular transactions between the 2009 financial year and 2017 including, share incentives, plus interest as well as legal costs.

The document in which Jooste indicated that he is planning to oppose the motion, the notice of intention to defend, has been filed at the Western Cape High Court and has been sent to Steinhoff’s legal team.

Steinhoff’s claim was laid out in a summons stamped by the court on June 14 and served on Jooste shortly thereafter. The report indicated that income and asset values were overstated by about 6.5 billion (R103.31bn).

Ron Klipin, a senior analyst at Cratos Asset Management, said challenging Steinhoff’s civil claim may prolong the proceedings.

“It seems laughable that he is opposing the civil claim lawsuit as he was the senior executive of the group, as were the executive team. Currently the restructuring debt standstill agreement is of prime importance,” Klipin said.

Steinhoff is reportedly claiming a sum of R271m from La Grange.

With Jooste having made the deadline, which was within ten working days of being served with the summons, indications are that La Grange will also file his notice to defend.

The claim against its former executives is a small amount compared to the money Steinhoff lost after the admission of accounting irregularities in December 2017 when the share price declined by more than 90 percent and losing more than R200bn in market capitalisation.

Early this week Steinhoff creditors agreed to grant the troubled retailer yet another extension in a move to complete its financial restructuring of its European businesses. The deadline was extended to August 9.

In addition, Klipin said a simplification of the group structure going forward should also be undertaken in order to undo the complexity of the operating entities.

“This could make the businesses easier to understand in terms of transparency and see through value,” Klipin said.

BUSINESS REPORT