Mr Jooste, you’ve been served
● Disgraced former CEO Markus Jooste is one of several Steinhoff International directors who have been served with papers as part of a multibillion-rand lawsuit against the battered retail group.
“This means they are officially aware of the proceedings against them,” said Zain Lundell, partner at LHL Attorneys, the South African firm involved.
Jooste, former CFO Ben la Grange, former chair Christo Wiese, his son Jacob and current chair Heather Sonn have all been served, Lundell said.
Shareholders had to stomach heavy losses as Steinhoff stock shed 90% of its value in the days after Jooste’s departure in December 2017 when the release of financial statements was put on hold due to “accounting irregularities”. The stock has not recovered.
Law firms have pulled together some of the investors to claim nearly R200bn from Steinhoff, its subsidiaries, directors and auditors Deloitte SA for allegedly misinforming shareholders between June 2013 and December 2017.
But the bounty in Steinhoff, judging by filings in the past year involving previously undisclosed debts and inflated asset values, is worth much less than the amount claimed by shareholders.
But even if Steinhoff does not have the money, the directors — or the insurance companies that sold them liability insurance — might. And other entities such as Deloitte or PSG Capital or Commerzbank, among those listed as defendant companies by the law firms, could have deeper pockets than Steinhoff.
Allan Gray, Investec Asset Management and Old Mutual are among the investors supporting the process being driven by law firms BarentsKrans in the Netherlands, TILP in Germany and LHL in SA.
The rest of the individuals and institutions on the list are expected to be served in the next few weeks, said Lundell.
Thereafter, the case can be certified by the high court as a class action, which could happen by April or May, he said. Certification will also map out a timeline for the rest of the process, expected to drag on for years.
In the meantime, Steinhoff, which controls SA’s Pepkor, US-based Mattress Firm and the UK’s Poundland, among other retail interests, is intent on reassuring creditors it can continue operating.
Wiese, who controlled the conglomerate from 2015 until December 2017, is also claiming R59bn from Steinhoff. In the class action suits, however, he is not a claimant but a respondent.
Asked if he has been served, Wiese said: “Ja, they have served all the directors as far as I know. There’s this class action or whatever, nothing new has developed there either.”
In October, the Dutch Investors’ Association (VEB) agreed to put its class action proceedings against Steinhoff on hold until April this year to allow the company time to restructure its financial liabilities and finalise investigations and financial statements.
VEB sued Steinhoff in the Netherlands for financial statements, prospectuses and press releases, which, according to VEB, had been misleading. — Additional reporting by Penelope Mashego
The bounty in Steinhoff is worth much less than the amount claimed