Christo Wiese, the billionaire chairman of Steinhoff ­Holdings. Picture: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

JOHANNESBURG - The Mogul behind a string of high street names has been stripped of his billionaire status in pound terms after shares in his shopping empire plunged.

Christo Wiese’s firm Steinhoff said businesses worth almost £900million (R16.4billion) would have to be sold to plug a funding gap, despite warnings that a consumer squeeze would make such deals painful. The move came following the revelation that "accounting irregularities" were being probed.

Wiese owns or has significant stakes in New Look, Iceland, Poundland and Virgin Active after a spending spree to snap up UK assets in the past three years.

He lost £2bn on paper from his personal fortune in recent days after it emerged that Steinhoff - a vast conglomerate which includes Harveys and Bensons for Beds - is investigating the irregularities.

The company advised investors to exercise caution when considering buying its shares.

Last year, Wiese was being touted as South Africa’s richest man, but the collapse in Steinhoff’s shares has left the value of his assets at $723m (£537m, or R9.8bn), according to Forbes.

Last week’s slump compounded losses after sterling’s dive following the Brexit vote, which wiped £400m off his holdings.

Wiese owns his stakes in New Look, Iceland and Virgin Active through a separate investment fund, Brait, whose shares felt the shockwaves and fell 14percent.

One South African fund manager said Steinhoff was "walking a tightrope".

Jonathan Pritchard, at London-based stockbroker Peel Hunt, said: "It would appear that pretty much everything in the Steinhoff stable is up for sale."

Retail analyst Nick Bubb said a "fire sale" of businesses "does not bear thinking about" in the current retail climate.

"We can see why the shares of the business were smashed," he added.

Steinhoff drafted in PwC to scrutinise its accounts as it looked at the "validity and recoverability" of some assets owned outside South Africa.

An investigation has been launched by regulators in Germany, where the £12bn turnover business has an office.

Over recent months Steinhoff had denied allegations of accounting issues reported in the German press. Chief executive Markus Jooste said the company "rejected the claims of dishonesty contained in some media statements". He stepped down last week. - Mail On Sunday