Hawks swoop on Steinhoff as Bheki Cele confirms three fraud investigations

JOHANNESBURG — Minister of Police, Bheki Cele, has developed a reputation as a tough man intent on putting as many crooks behind bars in South Africa. He’s also infamous for controversially egging police on, in previous years, to “shoot to kill“. After succeeding the questionable Fikile Mbalula in the post as police minister under Ramaphosa’s Cabinet, it looks like Cele might also become famous for another reason: that is, as the minister under whom the cops took on Markus Jooste. Many will see the confirmation of these criminal cases as being inevitable, but the fact that Cele himself has confirmed it, adds more spice to the Steinhoff tale. – Gareth van Zyl

By Loni Prinsloo and Renee Bonorchis

(Bloomberg) – A South African police unit is probing three cases of fraud at Steinhoff International Holdings NV after the embattled retailer submitted a series of allegations against former Chief Executive Officer Markus Jooste.

Two of the cases were reported in Stellenbosch, where Steinhoff is based, and one in Johannesburg, Minister of Police Bheki Cele said in a reply to a parliamentary question emailed on Friday. As well as fraud, one of the Stellenbosch cases adds theft, extortion, forgery and a failure to report knowledge of wrongdoing to the list of offences.

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Jooste, 57, quit as CEO of Steinhoff on Dec. 5, the day the owner of Conforama in France, Mattress Firm in the US and Poundland in the U.K. reported accounting irregularities that have wiped more than 95 percent off the company’s share price. Steve Booysen, the chairman of Steinhoff’s audit committee, submitted the report against Jooste to the Hawks, as the police unit is known, at the end of January.

Steinhoff itself is being investigated by legal authorities and regulators around the world and is being sued by a Dutch investor group and former Chairman Christo Wiese. The retailer has appointed PwC to probe its finances, with a particular focus on off-balance-sheet structures and deals with related parties. Its findings are expected to be published by the end of the year.

Read also: How to spot another Steinhoff: Part 1 of explosive series on biggest SA fraud case

Steinhoff’s report accuses Jooste of being party to the falsification of accounting records, providing false or misleading information with a fraudulent purpose, being party to an act or omission by Steinhoff calculated to defraud creditors, employees or shareholders, and being party to untrue written statements required by the Companies Act, Cele said.

Steinhoff shares fell 0.9 percent to 8 euro cents as of 11:31 a.m. in Frankfurt, where the company moved its primary listing in 2015. Separately on Friday, Steinhoff won support of creditors representing 85 percent of the external debt of Steinhoff Europe to extend a support period for the company to agree to a debt restructuring plan.

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