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‘It wasn’t me’ – decoding former Steinhoff CEO Markus Jooste

Sep 05 2018 14:25
Pieter du Toit

Former Steinhoff International CEO Markus Jooste delivered a remarkable performance in Parliament on Wednesday during a joint meeting of various parliamentary committees, where he washed his hands of any blame for the virtual collapse of the South African multinational company.

It was the first time Jooste had been seen in public since December 6, 2017, when his resignation was announced and the company's stock price plummeted - wiping an estimated R200bn from Steinhoff’s market value.

Jooste, greying hair neatly clipped, clean-shaven, wore square-rimmed black glasses and a gun-metal blue suit with a light-blue tie.

He appeared nervous when the meeting commenced, but appeared increasingly confident as the morning wore on and questioning from MPs progressed.

He was accompanied by two senior counsel and two lawyers, but they never saw the need to intervene. Jooste appeared comfortable and assured of his account. 

The meeting was lumbering, cumbersome; with four committees taking part and three chairpersons facilitating the discussions. Questions veered from Jooste's personal motivation as a businessman to why he sent a note to colleagues in which he said that he made "mistakes". 

Yet MPs were unable to pin him down and the format of the meeting meant that it was almost impossible to follow up incisively on questions that Jooste answered evasively.

However, South Africans could hear, for the first time, Jooste’s version of events in his own words. 

Who is responsible for the loss of billions of rands and the irreparable damage to Steinhoff?

Certainly not Jooste. The company that he left behind on December 5, 2017 was in good nick, operated in 30 countries and had 130 000 employees, he told MPs. He couldn’t comment on what happened after his departure.

Why, then, did the share price fall so dramatically?

Jooste was at pains to explain that the reason for this was that the company's announcement on December 6, that the audited results would not be released, led to uncertainty in the market among investors and lenders.

But is that demonstrably false?

Yes. The Steinhoff board, on December 5, 2017, announced Jooste’s resignation, plus – and this is very important – the fact that the financials would not be released because of new evidence which necessitated an investigation into "accounting irregularities". Jooste never referred to that crucial bit in the company’s announcement.

What about the investigation up until that point?

Jooste detailed the chronology of events until his departure, and told MPs of a meeting days before the crash where auditors Deloitte agreed to accept earlier findings by an independent law firm, commissioned by Steinhoff, that all was well with the company’s financials. However, the following day Deloitte changed its mind and insisted on a new investigation.

Why did Jooste not agree to it if there was nothing to hide?

He told MPs that by that time he had been dealing with the issue full-time for more than two years. He was adamant that the findings of the Steinhoff-commissioned investigation should be the end of the matter and that the auditors should sign off on the numbers. 

Where did the investigation come from?

Jooste, from the outset, blamed everything on Andreas Seifert, an Austrian business partner with Steinhoff had dealt with since 2007. According to Jooste, the relationship turned sour and Seifert started spreading rumours and innuendo about the company, which eventually led to the German investigation that started in 2015.

Did Jooste admit to anything?

No, he blamed auditors Deloitte for not accepting the findings of the Steinhoff investigation. He blamed Seifert for helping to create the perfect storm, and he blamed his own fatigue in dealing with the issue on an ongoing basis. He told the committees there was nothing wrong with the group’s finances.

But he sent a note admitting to 'mistakes' and saying he needed to move on and take it 'like a man'?

Jooste attributed that to the failed relationship with Seifert, saying everybody in his executive team knew he felt it (the partnership with Seifert) was his biggest mistake. 

Any good quotes from the day?

David Maynier, DA MP: "One of your colleagues or friends described you as a 'f*cking psychopath'…do you agree?

"Yunus Carrim, ANC MP and chairperson of the standing committee on finance: "You come across as the Mother Teresa of Steinhoff…not an inkling of regret or a sliver of acknowledgement…"

Markus Jooste: "I am not aware of any accounting irregularities in Steinhoff…"

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