Parliament’s finance committee chairperson Yunus Carrim has given a stern warning to the Hawks and financial regulators to take action on Steinhoff and its former chief executive Markus Jooste.
“We want you to move,” Carrim said.
Carrim made the remark after listening to testimony from Jooste and hearing his response to questions from MPs during a meeting on Wednesday.
He said Jooste had attempted to portray himself as the “Mother Theresa of Steinhoff” and asked whether he would accept any responsibility as the former chief executive for the collapse of Steinhoff’s share price on December 6 2017.
Jooste has pinned the blame for the collapse on Steinhoff’s former business partner Andreas Siefert, who blew the whistle on “accounting irregularities” at the global furniture retail giant to the German tax authorities in 2015.
Jooste said that the reason Seifert made the claims was because he wanted to “influence” the outcome of a civil litigation case he had instituted against Steinhoff.
Jooste told Carrim that the only responsibility he would accept was agreeing to take Seifert on as a partner to Steinhoff in 2007.
“I feel totally responsible … I chose the wrong partner,” Jooste said.
Jooste also said that Deloitte’s failure to sign off on Steinhoff’s financial results at the end of 2017 led to the collapse because banks were uncertain about the stability of the company when the results were not released.
Deloitte told Steinhoff that the reason it would not clear its financial statement is because of allegations of “accounting irregularities” which stemmed from information it had received and heard about from Seifert.
At this time, the board of Steinhoff had also appointed a new investigation to be conducted into its books. Jooste said that when he heard about the investigation he resigned, because he understood that it would have a drastic impact on the company and it would further delay the release of its audited results.
“I knew what the consequences of a new investigation would be to the value of the shares,” Jooste said.
The MPs did not spend much time questioning Jooste on the company’s acquisitions, but he did say that the board of the company, chaired by Christo Wiese, gave final approval on acquisitions.
PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) are now leading an investigation into Steinhoff which has already confirmed that the retailer had vastly overstated its income and assets. The full report from the inquiry is due at the end of the year.
But in the ten months since the scandal broke, Jooste has been a recluse. When the meeting adjourned in Parliament on Wednesday he was herded into an elevator by members of his legal team.
Outside the visitors’ entrance to Parliament, a 4×4 Lexus with a bodyguard waiting was ready to whisk Jooste away. Jooste has been rumoured to either be staying in Stellenbosch or Hermanus, hiding away from the public eye.
But on Wednesday, there was no indication that the man at the centre of a scheme that saw pension funds lose billions felt any shame. Jooste only said he was “saddened” by the losses.
The Hawks meanwhile have told Parliament that they lack the capacity to act against Steinhoff and they do not have the forensic skill. The Hawks also said that they had no evidence under oath that could justify them questioning any suspects.
Carrim said that the Hawks would be due to report to Parliament on the Steinhoff matter in two weeks and that the committee would meet with Police Minister Bheki Cele on Thursday.