Former Steinhoff CEO Markus Jooste in Parliament. File photo: Mike Hutchings/Reuters.
JOHANNESBURG - A mass sale of art by former Steinhoff International Holdings NV Chief Executive Officer Markus Jooste caused a slump in the price of paintings by famed South African artist Jacob Hendrik Pierneef, according to people familiar with the matter.

Jooste quit as head of Steinhoff the day the global retailer reported accounting irregularities in late 2017, and has since been identified by the retailer as the chief architect of various financial dealings that triggered the company’s near collapse. He’s the subject of an 850 million rand ($58 million) claim for damages by Steinhoff, among other lawsuits, though hasn’t been charged and denies wrongdoing.

A locally known art collector, Jooste has been selling various works through private dealers to raise funds, said the people, who asked not to be named as the transactions aren’t public. He owned a number of works by Pierneef, a prolific landscape painter who died in 1957 and remains a staple of auction houses in Johannesburg and Cape Town, they said.

Jooste and his lawyer, Callie Albertyn, didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Confused Dealers

A record price of almost 20.5 million rand ($1.4 million) for a Pierneef work was paid for ‘Farm Jonkershoek with Twin Peaks Beyond, Stellenbosch’ in June 2017, about six months before the Steinhoff scandal erupted.

Art dealers had expected the market to grow from there, but were left confused when some works the following year went unsold, one of the people said. Word quickly spread that Jooste was offloading at least part of his collection.

Johannesburg-based Strauss & Co sold nine Pierneef lots for a combined 9.65 million rand in Cape Town this month, marking a “return to form,” according to an Oct. 15 statement on the auctioneer’s website. “Prices had been diluted by a recent fire sale by a distressed collector,” it said, without being more specific.

Jooste made a number of moves to realize funds in the weeks after Steinhoff’s shares crashed. He put a plot on a luxury estate up for sale in the weeks following the start of the scandal, while his then investment firm offloaded a champion race horse.

Steinhoff was also forced to sell assets to shore up its balance sheet and remain in operation. The owner of Mattress Firm in the U.S. and the U.K.’s Poundland sold Austrian furniture chain Rudolf Leiner GmbH and stakes in firms such as KAP Industrial Holdings Ltd., among other assets.