Markus Jooste’s suicide came a day after he agreed to give himself up to Hawks

Above – Mossel River Drive in Kwaaiwater, Hermanus shortly after 4pm on Thursday, 21st March, 2024 . Pic: Sunette Van Niekerk

Sign up for your early morning brew of the BizNews Insider to keep you up to speed with the content that matters. The newsletter will land in your inbox at 5:30am weekdays. Register here.

By Alec Hogg 

The Markus Jooste tragedy came to a dramatic end this afternoon (Thursday 21st March) when the 63 year old died of a single self-inflicted gunshot wound to his head. Jooste, the former CEO of Steinhoff, leaves a wife, son and two daughters.

On Wednesday afternoon he was officially notified to present himself in Pretoria on Friday morning to the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, commonly known as the Hawks. He would then appear in the Commercial Crimes Court for a bail hearing.

Jooste had agreed to comply, as he had done throughout an investigation which goes back to 2018. He had handed his passport to his attorney and repeatedly told the authorities he would not leave the country.

He was booked on a flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg on Thursday evening to fulfil the commitment to hand himself over. But instead, at around 4pm, he decided to take his own life below Hermanus’s famous Cliff Path, near the sea. (click here to watch the video retracing his final steps). He was still alive when found by a member of Hermanus Public Protection, which patrols the paths, but pronounced dead soon after arriving at the Hermanus Mediclinic hospital.

The suicide follows Wednesday’s release by South Africa’s Financial Sector Conduct Authority of conclusions in its investigation into the Steinhoff saga and the living of a R475m fine plus interest on the company’s long-time leader. The FSCA report was compiled after a lengthy investigation and concluded the former Steinhoff CEO manipulated information to portray a false picture of the company’s financial position.  

The FSCA fined Jooste for willfully publishing false information designed to mislead investors in the company’s shares and bankers who loaned Steinhoff hundreds of billions of rand. Details are contained in the full 27-page statement republished below. Interest of 11.75% – R5.5m per month – has been charged from 17 November 2023 and will continue to be until the date the fine is paid. According to the law this must be within 30 days.

The FSCA report is damning. For instance, in December 2016, Jooste “created…..transactions which had no economic substance” that inflated Steinhoff Europe’s operating profit by R5.4bn (Euro 271.3m). According to the regulatory body this involved creating profit from thin air, which was “either disguised as receivables that were not recoverable or as cash equivalents that were similarly not recoverable.”      

The report lists numerous frauds and the magically created profit line that was never real, which resulted in financial statements that told shareholders and bankers that Steinhoff’s hefty debt was well covered by R57bn in cash (EUR 2.87bn). Once Jooste’s creative accounting was stripped out, however, the true cash holding according to the FSCA was a relatively modest R13.6bn (EUR 684m). So in contrast to its officially published accounts, the corporation was actually drowning in debt long before the December 2017 expose’.    

Significantly, this long-time deception escalated towards the end. In June 2017, six months before the group imploded, the FSCA says at the stroke of a pen Jooste created net income of R1.6bn “that had no economic substance” at Steinhoff’s recently acquired US subsidiary, Mattress Firm. His fraud transformed that company’s reported bottom line from an actual R1bn loss into a stated profit of R600m. 

The FSCA investigation says Steinhoff’s financial reporting was “deceptive in the extreme……..that led to investors, lenders and other creditors having false and misleading information…overvaluing Steinhoff International’s performance and/or the recoverability of their investment or loan.”

In determining the penalty, the FSCA noted that between 2014 and 2017, Jooste received R710m personally from Steinhoff International: “His remuneration was linked to the company’s overall performance and was thus inflated by overstated false, misleading, and deceptive annual results.” It applied this figure to calculating the R475m fine, by far the biggest ever levied on anyone in South Africa.

Read also