Lives of luxury: More Steinhoff extravagances revealed as distressed retailer sells private jet

EDINBURGH -— The Steinhoff scandal isn’t just a story of accountants playing games with book-keeping entries, profit and loss statements and balance sheets. It is also a tale of greed and luxury at the top of the organisation. The revelation that Steinhoff had a private jet underscores that its executives didn’t skimp on treating themselves to the trappings of wealth, apparently too important and busy to fly business class on a commercial airline. The top bosses paid themselves incredibly well, too, with Ben la Grange – former Chief Executive Officer of Steinhoff Africa Retail who has been redeployed to work on the rescue operation – enjoying a R50m pay package in 2017. Markus Jooste, the Steinhoff CEO who stepped down in disgrace when it became impossible to conceal irregularities, has a conspicuously extravagant lifestyle. He reportedly has his own private jet. As recently as 2015, Jooste was believed to be the world’s second biggest racehorse owner, behind Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, reports Fin24. Former chairman Christo Wiese, a big shareholder in Steinhoff, remains among Africa’s wealthiest, according to Forbes. – Jackie Cameron

By Renee Bonorchis

Bloomberg – Steinhoff International Holdings NV, the South African retailer laid low by an accounting scandal, is selling one of its more high-flying assets as it seeks liquidity to keep itself alive.

The owner of U.K. discounter Poundland and bedding supplier Mattress Firm in the U.S. is in discussions with a potential buyer of a 2006 Gulfstream G550 private jet that’s shuttled executives around the world, according to a person familiar with the situation. The luxuriously appointed craft previously had a price tag of about $25 million.

A Steinhoff International Holdings NV logo sits on display outside the company’s offices in Stellenbosch on August 17, 2016. Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

The plane was put up for sale after the company announced on Dec. 5 that it had uncovered accounting irregularities, the person said. The disclosure prompted a plunge in the share price of Frankfurt- and Johannesburg-listed Steinhoff, along with the resignation of Chief Executive Officer Markus Jooste and Chairman Christo Wiese. Steinhoff on Thursday said it’s seeking “significant near-term liquidity” for some of its business units.

Steinhoff said it took delivery of the jet in April last year. It was advertised by Global Jet, an operator of business aircraft, for $24.75 million in 2016. The sale brochure shows the interior fitted out in cream-colored leather seating, wood paneling and a marble-and-brass bathroom.

The plane, certified for 16 passengers, left Frankfurt on Dec. 3 to fly to South Africa and was last tracked in Cape Town on Dec. 7, according to online flight logs. The jet also made stops in Johannesburg, Vienna and Dublin last year. It’s registered with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.

Steinhoff, by email, confirmed plans to sell the jet but declined to comment further, saying all of its corporate information is being communicated via the Johannesburg Stock Exchange’s news service.

Racehorses Sold

In addition to wiping more than 11 billion euros ($13 billion) off the company’s stock value, the accounting scandal has taken a steep toll on the wealth and lifestyle of some of its principals. Wiese, the largest shareholder, has seen his net worth cut by more than half, to $2.3 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Jooste has sold some racehorses.

Steinhoff said in a December presentation that lines of credit were increasingly being withdrawn or suspended and it sold a stake in South African investment holding company PSG Group Ltd., raising about $345 million.

The retailer on Friday said it sold the Vienna flagship store of the Leiner furniture brand to a company controlled by Austrian real estate investor Rene Benko. Neither the buyer nor the seller disclosed financial details.

The Amsterdam-registered retailer has said it will restate earnings for 2015, 2016 and 2017, with figures for prior years also “ likely” to need restating. 

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