Chief executive of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) Nicky Newton-King, Treasury director-general Dondo Mogajane, Minister of Finance Malusi Gigaba and Deputy Minister of Finance Sfiso Buthelezi attend a briefing about the Steinhoff debacle at the JSE in Sandton. Photo: Dimpho Maja/ African News Agency/ANA
Chief executive of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) Nicky Newton-King, Treasury director-general Dondo Mogajane, Minister of Finance Malusi Gigaba and Deputy Minister of Finance Sfiso Buthelezi attend a briefing about the Steinhoff debacle at the JSE in Sandton. Photo: Dimpho Maja/ African News Agency/ANA
Markus Jooste, former Steinhoff International chief executive.
Markus Jooste, former Steinhoff International chief executive.
JOHANNESBURG - The Steinhoff International debacle this week claimed another casualty with the Independent Regulatory Board for Auditors (Irba) launching an investigation into Deloitte South Africa’s probable complicity in the company’s withheld financials and chairperson Christo Wiese stepping down as pressure on the board mounted.

Irba said on Friday that it was investigating Deloitte South Africa’s conduct as the company that had audited Steinhoff’s books during the financial years 2014 - 2016.

Steinhoff is audited by Deloitte South Africa, which has confirmed that it will fully co-operate with Irba during the investigation.

Irba chief executive Bernard Agulhas said the board had always cautioned that more attention needed to be given to auditor independence.

He said authorities and bodies needed to give similar attention to the independence of governance structures.

“Irrespective of how competent auditors and those charged with governance are, any cosy relationships must necessarily impair, or at the least be perceived to impair, the exercise of good judgement and healthy professional scepticism,” said Agulhas.

Steinhoff’s share price has fallen since the company admitted to accounting irregularities, warning shareholders this week that its earnings for this year and 2016 were not accurate and would thus be restated.

Wiese resigned on Thursday night, saying he wanted to reinforce independent governance and address any possible conflict of interest.

The board appointed Heather Sonn, a member of the supervisory board and its independent sub-committee, as acting chairperson. The group also announced the resignation of Wiese’s son Jacob from the board.

Agulhas said: “The investigation will follow due process and the timing will depend on information which will come to our attention once we have established the nature of the alleged irregularities and have had further discussions with the relevant parties, including the audit regulators in Germany, where the company has its primary listing, and the Netherlands.

“These discussions, including matters relating to jurisdictional responsibilities, commenced in the previous week.”

Industry analysts cheered Wiese’s decision.

Jordan Weir, an equities trader at BayHill Capital, said that as the veil was slowly being lifted from the accounting scandal, it remained in the best interests of Steinhoff’s shareholders for Wiese to step down.

“This actually sets an honourable example for all business leaders who may encounter similar situations to stand up, be willing to be held accountable and to take any ethical steps necessary for the benefit of underlying shareholders,” Weir said.

Steinhoff shares plunged more than 80percent last week in a week that also saw former long-serving chief executive Markus Jooste resigning.

The share price dropped 87 cents on the news to R8.05 a share, down from Thursday’s closing price of R8.92.

Wiese had been chairperson since last year and became a board member in 2013. The supervisory board had appointed him as an interim executive chairperson only last week.

Ron Klipin, a senior analyst at Cratos Wealth, said Wiese’s stepping down was a step in the right direction: “They need an independent chairperson to give credibility to a head.”

- BUSINESS REPORT