Where in the world is Markus Jooste?
That has been a prevailing question ever since the disgraced Steinhoff chief executive stepped down because of fraud allegations and the company lost 98% of its value.
A billionaire and an avid horse breeder based in Stellenbosch, he was often in the public eye — but he has seemingly gone to ground since the Steinhoff scandal broke on December 6 last year.
There have been rumours that he is hiding in Namibia or on a horse farm in Argentina, but the reality is less exotic.
“Mr Jooste is in the country,” was the brief emailed response from his Cape Town-based lawyer this week.
According to Cape locals he is “hiding” in plain sight.
Former Steinhoff chairperson and Stellenbosch resident Christo Wiese told the Mail & Guardian he had “not seen or heard” from Jooste since December 6 last year although he had heard he was around.
“People occasionally tell me they saw him at a restaurant. Four or five weeks ago someone said they had seen him in Hermanus with friends.
“Certainly, I have not seen him,” said Wiese, one of the biggest losers in the saga, with much of his wealth tied up in Steinhoff and an estimated personal loss of R50-billion. “One of my relatives saw him at one place and walked straight out.”
But Jooste had not been seen at the places he used to frequent and had not been near the farm he shares with Steinhoff executives Danie van der Merwe and Frikkie Nel, Wiese said.
Wiese was fairly sure Jooste was in the Cape. “I have no reason to believe anything else … but with him [Jooste] you just don’t know.”
A legal expert who asked not to be named said, according to the Insolvency Act, if someone left the country to evade or delay the payment of debts, it would amount to an act of insolvency, and would allow for a sequestration application to be brought against the person.
A prominent Stellenbosch local, who lost money invested in Steinhoff and also did not want to be named, said Jooste had not shown his face in the town where many investors and former friends who had been caught up in the Steinhoff saga live. “They would hunt him down,” the source said.
Last week, Parliament resolved to subpoena Jooste after he, through his lawyer, declined to appear before the standing committee on finance.
The Hawks said investigations into several cases related to Steinhoff are ongoing.