Former Steinhoff CEO Markus Jooste on Wednesday absolved himself of all blame for Steinhoff’s 98% drop in share prices in December after "accounting irregularities" emerged in the global group.
“By the time that I left Steinhoff [in December], I was not aware of any accounting irregularities,” the 57-year-old told a joint meeting of four parliamentary committees.
“I was [also] not aware of anybody who acted deliberately or knowingly against the company's code of conduct [which states an employee may not be involved in any fraud],” Jooste said.
Jooste's testimony is in direct contradiction to former Steinhoff CFO Ben la Grange’s testimony in Parliament a week ago – when he said accounting fraud took place incrementally over years at Steinhoff.
Jooste's version was also in conflict with the testimony of former Steinhoff chairperson Christo Wiese, who appeared in Parliament in January. Wiese alluded to accounting irregularities at the multinational – but said he had not been aware of any before the December revelation.
Business Insider South Africa looked at three places where Jooste’s testimony differed from La Grange and Wiese's, and the one place they all agreed:
In Jooste’s version of events, he was not aware of any accounting irregularities under his watch. Instead, allegations of such irregularities came from an Austrian businessman and former Steinhoff partner, Andreas Seifert, who wanted to gain a competitive edge in litigation against Steinhoff.
Jooste says the Steinhoff share price plunged, not because of what could amount to fraud, but because the company failed to release its results on time. Jooste, however, failed to mention that the Steinhoff board in December – days after his resignation as CEO – specifically mentioned “accounting irregularities” as a cause for the delay in issuing its results.
Markus Jooste: the mistake I made was taking a strategic partner in 2007, Andreas Seifert, that made his “dream collapse”. Presumably, in Jooste’s version, by unfairly implicating him in fraud that led to the German criminal probe. In his version.— Rob Rose (@robrose_za) September 5, 2018
Former CFO La Grange previously said a PwC report compiled in 2018 found that Steinhoff purposefully inflated its profits, loaned money to companies who would repay it to Steinhoff as profit, and acquired assets at inflated values.
La Grange, who remained a Steinhoff advisor months after he stepped down as CFO in January, specifically mentioned that there were a number of transactions which are now believed to have been directly influenced by Jooste.
Jooste was adamant that he resigned only after the Steinhoff board voted against his proposal to fire Deloitte as company auditors, and release unaudited results.
He said he resigned because he “had enough” of all the investigations, particularly after Deloitte demanded further scrutiny before it would be willing to release an unqualified audit - a week before the results were supposed to be published.
“I wanted to force them (the board) to take the right decision for the company [by threatening to resign]."
Jooste said he had a “long conversation” with Wiese the morning of Monday, December 4, 2017, where they agreed that the unaudited results should be released.
But this is not Wiese's version of events.
According to Wiese's account in the book Steinhoff - Inside SA's Biggest Ever Corporate Crash, by James-Brent Styan, Jooste only sent him a voice note on that Monday to say that he just wanted to shower before heading to the audit meeting. He never showed up.
A major discrepancy, is what #MarkusJooste testified about how things played out on 4 December. It appears according to him, he and dr Christo Wiese had long discussions about the situation on the day. As written in my #steinhoff book, this is what dr Wiese says. pic.twitter.com/U4GvBAVVHM— James Styan (@jamesstyan) September 5, 2018
Jooste tendered his resignation through a German lawyer that Monday evening.
La Grange told Parliament last week that Steinhoff’s share price will likely never recover because the company’s vast debt is “still there”.
However, Jooste implied that he believes the share price could have recovered if the company retained its asset.
“But the company has sold several assets since December, including its assets with Seifert, which I learnt of just yesterday and with which I disagree,” Jooste said.
Jooste repeatedly blamed Deloitte's last-minute refusal to release its results for the Steinhoff share-price implosion.
But he admitted that Steinhoff's global operations were complex. He said at least six different auditors were used to audit financials in 52 different jurisdictions - before it came to the holding company, where consolidated numbers were then audited by Deloitte.
This made spotting accounting mistakes very difficult, he said.
#Steinhoff Jooste goes into detail how each diffrent cluster was audited by a diffrent aditor. Counted at least 6 diffrent auditors Steinhoff used to audit its various companies. "The companies handed it over to the holding company, where it was signed off." @BISouthAfrica— James de Villiers (@pejames) September 5, 2018
On this his sentiments are shared by Wiese and La Grange, who both said that it is nearly impossible to spot fraud in a large multinational.
“To detect fraud in a company is an extremely difficult if not impossible task and it becomes more difficult when as is alleged in this case, the CEO is directly involved,” Wiese told Parliament in January.
Last week, La Grange said that if Steinhoff had had a single auditor, it would have decreased the risk of a meltdown, because intercompany loans would’ve been picked up quicker.
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