Steinhoff told shareholders it would replace Deloitte. File Photo: IOL
JOHANNESBURG – Steinhoff said on Friday that it planned to task Mazars, the international accountancy, advisory and tax services firm, with the responsibility of balancing its books following the 2017 accounting scandal that brought the company to its knees.

In a surprise move at its annual general meeting held in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, Steinhoff told shareholders it would replace Deloitte with Mazars. It said it planned to invite shareholders to an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) where they could put the appointment of Mazars to a vote. Dutch investor group VEB said the proposal had come as a shock to shareholders. It questioned why Mazars had been appointed and also asked for the names of companies that had been shortlisted.

“This is a surprise announcement, and we are disconcerted,” said VEB, which launched a lawsuit against Steinhoff last year after the share price declined by more than 95 percent following the admission to accounting irregularities in December 2017.

Steinhoff chairperson Heather Sonn said the move to appoint Mazars would be good for the company and would see it fulfilling its responsibility to its shareholders. “We have 42 days to give investors notice of an EGM, where investors have the right to vote to approve the Mazars nomination. Time is ticking, and we have to get the process moving,” said Sonn.

Steinhoff, the owner of Pepkor Europe and Pepkor Africa, said on Friday that it would not disclose the full contents of the forensic investigation by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) into fraud.

Sonn said it was not in the interest of the company to disclose the full report. “The company must act in the best interest of its stakeholders. We have to protect the interest of the company,” Sonn said. In March, Steinhoff released an 11-page summary of the 3000-page PwC report.

In the 11-page report, Steinhoff did not name those it believed to be responsible for the fraud that involved R106 billion. It was, however, forced to reveal the names of eight individuals, including former chief executive Markus Jooste, during a hearing in Parliament days later.

Jooste quit the firm in December 2017 and has denied any wrongdoing. Steinhoff has instituted a civil claim against him, which Jooste is opposing.

Steinhoff chief executive Louis du Preez told the meeting that forensic probes were continuing, including investigating possible claims against Top Global - an entity linked to the Talgarth Group - for the repayment of a loan account.

“We will take action against third parties. We are trying to recover a claim against Top Global of between 280 million (R4.66 billion) and 300m,” said Du Preez.

The global retailer is battling with an 9.09bn mountain of debt and a weak share price.

Despite the challenges, Steinhoff chief financial officer Philip Dieperink said there was light at the end of the tunnel.

“Our operations have done a fantastic job to raise money under trying circumstances. We have got some challenges ahead of us. We are in a better position than last year, but there is still a journey to go,” he said.

Steinhoff said 99.48 percent of shareholders had voted in favour of the proposal to reduce the capital of the company by reducing the nominal value of its ordinary shares.

It said 91 percent of shareholders had supported board remuneration and 56 percent voted to approve the 2018 accounts.

Steinhoff closed 1.64 percent lower at R1.20 on Friday.