Lenders give Markus Jooste more time to pay his mega debts

JOHANNESBURG — It’s incredible how much debt the likes of former Steinhoff CEO Markus Jooste has racked up over the years. Amid the complete meltdown at his former company, he’s now been given a little more time to repay these debts. The lenders, no doubt, will be criticised for being too lenient on a man who has been blamed for losing billions of rands from pensioners and investors. – Gareth van Zyl

By Loni Prinsloo

(Bloomberg) – Banks granted Steinhoff International Holdings NV’s former chief executive officer, Markus Jooste, another extension to pay back his debt as the global retailer that he headed struggles to survive an accounting scandal that happened under his watch.

Jooste’s personal investment company, Mayfair Holdings Pty Ltd., struck a deal with banks in March this year to sell assets of more than $2 billion to repay debt owed to the lenders by December. Lenders and other creditors have now agreed that Jooste, 57, has until March 31, 2019, to repay his debts, Stefan Potgieter, Mayfair’s sole director, told some stakeholders in an email seen by Bloomberg. Potgieter confirmed the extension.

Former Steinhoff CEO Markus Jooste

“We continue to enjoy the support of our creditors for an orderly process in the interest of all stakeholders, which might include further postponements of deadlines, if needs be,” wrote Potgieter, who is also Jooste’s son-in-law.

Mayfair’s biggest asset is candymaker Lodestone Brands Pty Ltd. The founders of the company, whose brands include Rascals candies and Champion toffees, remain minority shareholders and are considering making an offer to buy back the business, said people familiar with the situation, who asked not to be named because this hasn’t been publicly announced.

Such an offer would cover the R959 million ($67 million) in debt owed to Mayfair’s three main lenders – Sanlam Ltd., Investec Plc and Absa Group Ltd., according to the people, declining to say how much the minorities would propose paying.

After Steinhoff shares crashed when it reported a hole in its accounts in December, Mayfair defaulted on its share-backed loans. That gave banks an option to liquidate the company or come up with a breakup proposal to release capital. While the three lenders agreed that the latter course would realise more value, there have been no significant disposals to date and the three banks continue to hold the debt on their books. Mayfair was also involved in horse racing.

“Any suggestion that we are not dealing with the matter in the usual manner by, for example, being unduly lenient to Mayfair is inaccurate,” said an Absa spokesman. “It is Absa’s intention to pursue the scheme-of-arrangement process, as well as any other legal remedies that may be available to it, until such time as all obligations owed by Mayfair to Absa are fulfilled.”

Investec and Sanlam confirmed that an extension has been granted.

Steinhoff’s stock has plunged about 95 percent since it announced on Dec. 5 that Jooste is leaving the company and that the global retailer’s accounts will be investigated. The former CEO told a parliamentary hearing earlier this month that the origin of Steinhoff’s near collapse was a protracted dispute with a German partner, denying knowledge of any financial irregularities. The company has said it reported Jooste to a South African police unit.

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