Steinhoff’s Stellenbosch, Cape Town, branch.

CAPE TOWN - In an attempt to uncover the truth, PwC has studied more than 320 000 documents and gathered 4.4 million records on Steinhoff International in the four months since the accounting irregularities were reported in December.

This emerged during the annual general meeting (AGM) that lasted more than five hours, held on Friday in the Netherlands.

Despite going through the process, PwC is not yet in a position to publish its final reports about the scandal-hit retailer.

The group’s share price has plunged by more than 95 percent and lost around R200 billion in market capitalisation since December.

However, Steinhoff said an independent and unrestricted investigation by PwC had uncovered the overstatement of income and assets at Steinhoff.

“The investigation confirmed a pattern of transactions undertaken over a number of years across a variety of asset classes that led to the material overstatement of income and asset values of the group,” Steinhoff said during the presentation.

The results for the year to end September 2017 were put on hold while PwC is still conducting the investigation. The group said it wanted to publish its audited 2017 results by the end of the year.

The group aims to publish the full PwC forensic report once it has been completed, except for parts that may influence prosecutions or civic claims.

But it said no date had been provided for its publication yet.

In describing the turmoil that started in December, acting chairperson Heather Sonn said the group was like a burning building. “Typically, when in a burning building, you run out.
Some stayed. We are happy some stayed in the burning building to help.”

She appealed for shareholder support for an ongoing investigation into the smouldering wreckage.
When the time for voting came, she received the support from the shareholders when they approved all the resolutions put to the meeting.

Only Steve Booysen and Angela Krueger-Steinhoff received the lowest votes to be retained in the supervisory board with 56 percent and 59 percent majority vote, respectively. The other members received a minimum of 80 percent while few receiver over 90 percent of the votes.

While the meeting was in progress, the Federation of Unions of South Africa (Fedusa) picketed outside the Cape Town Convention Centre where the AGM’s Netherlands meeting was streamed live.

Fedusa wanted Steinhoff to appoint a new board and said new directors were needed to take the company forward. 

Fedusa media and research officer Frank Nxumalo said the same executives should not be allowed to remain as directors, as the scandal had happened under their watch.
“We also want the audit committee under Steve Booysen to resign. Johan van Zyl has stepped down during the week and others must follow. We want new leadership that is not tainted,” Nxumalo said.

He added that criminal charges must be laid against those who were found to be in the wrong.

At the meeting, Deloitte was retained as auditors of the group until the end of September by 72.8 percent of votes.

Steinhoff said it had sufficient near-term liquidity, but the situation was still challenging. It would hold a lenders meeting in May to discuss a restructuring plan. Steinhoff shares gained 1.95 percent on the JSE on Friday to close at R2.61.

-BUSINESS REPORT