EDINBURGH — Christo Wiese is one of South Africa’s wealthiest businessman. His fortunes plummeted alongside the Steinhoff stock price crash that followed revelations late last year of financial irregularities in the books of the global retail chain. Wiese’s friend and ally, Markus Jooste, stepped down as CEO of Steinhoff as it emerged that the books had been cooked. Questions have been asked about how much Wiese knew about the manipulation of the financial records to pull the wool over lenders’ and investors’ eyes in order to facilitate an aggressive acquisition strategy. Wiese has been moving to distance himself from Jooste and his accomplices, with his decision to step back from Brait in order to concentrate on suing Steinhoff a sign that he is gearing up for the battle of a lifetime. – Jackie Cameron
By Janice Kew and Loni Prinsloo
(Bloomberg) – Christo Wiese, Brait SE’s biggest shareholder, has reduced his role at the investment company as he gears up for a legal battle with scandal-hit South African retailer Steinhoff International Holdings NV.
The billionaire is suing Steinhoff for R59 billion ($4.7 billion) to recoup losses incurred when the retailer’s share price crashed after the company reported a hole in its accounts in December. The legal claim partly hinges on the cancellation of a 2014 agreement in which Wiese sold clothing chain Pepkor Holdings Ltd. to Steinhoff, which eventually led to the 76-year-old becoming the largest shareholder. That deal also required Brait to sell a Pepkor stake.
Wiese quit as a non-executive director of Brait’s investee company, U.K. retailer New Look, and as non-executive chairman of Brait South Africa Pty Ltd., citing time constraints. He will remain a non-executive director and has appointed his son Jacob as an alternate, San Gwann, Malta-based Brait said in a statement Wednesday.
Wiese, who owns more than a third of Brait, said last week that the move against Steinhoff is to ensure he’s part of the retailer’s restructuring talks. Steinhoff’s stock has crashed more than 95 percent, while Wiese’s wealth has slumped to $2.1 billion from more than $5 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.