Steinhoff soap opera continues unabated with ex-Europe CFO calling it quits

JOHANNESBURG — Not a day goes by without some drama at Steinhoff. And in today’s episode of Steinhoff’s ‘Days of Our Lives’, news has emerged that the beleaguered company’s former head of finance in Europe has left the boards of two units. This comes amid a deepening investigation into Steinhoff’s accounting scandal. The situation would be comical only if it weren’t so tragic for shareholders and staff at the company. – Gareth van Zyl

By Janice Kew and Luca Casiraghi

(Bloomberg) – Steinhoff International Holdings NV said the former head of finance in Europe has left the boards of two key units as an investigation into the scandal-hit retailer’s inaccurate accounts deepens.

The owner of Conforama in France and Mattress Firm in the U.S., which last week won support from a majority of creditors to restructure its 9.4 billion euros ($11 billion) of debt, has replaced Dirk Schreiber. While Steinhoff is only midway through a year-long investigation into its finances, it’s been moving to strengthen its boards following the departure of Chief Executive Officer Markus Jooste in December.

A company sign stands inside the Steinhoff International Holdings NV company headquarters in Stellenbosch, South Africa, on Monday, May 14, 2018. Photographer: Dwayne Senior/Bloomberg

Schreiber, 47, stepped down as a director of Steinhoff Europe AG, which houses brands such as Pepco and Poundland. He also stepped down as a director of the convertible-bond unit Steinhoff Finance Holding GmbH last month, a spokeswoman for the Stellenbosch, South Africa-based company said in an emailed response to questions.

‘Independent directors’

New boards are made up of independent directors, she said. Steinhoff Europe’s management board is now made up of Theo de Klerk and David Frauman, while Frauman and Louis du Preez sit on the Steinhoff Finance board.

Steinhoff has written off the value of assets by at least 12.4 billion euros and said restatements of its financials may have to go back to at least 2015. The stock, which has lost 94 percent since the company admitted to a problem with the accounts, rose in Frankfurt and Johannesburg.

Read also: Selling the family jewels: Steinhoff gauges interest in European star-performer Pepco

Since the December 5 announcement of accounting irregularities, then Chairman Christo Wiese, who told South African lawmakers in January that the news came as a “bolt from the blue,” resigned. Ben La Grange stepped down as chief financial officer, while four other supervisory board members, including founder Bruno Steinhoff, retired early as the company sought to add more independent directors.

In March, Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported that Jooste had conspired with fellow Steinhoff executives in Europe to move revenue figures around subsidiaries to boost their balance sheets. Jooste discussed how to manipulate accounts for the 2014 fiscal year, the German newspaper said, citing internal emails.

At Steinhoff’s annual general meeting in April, Chairwoman Heather Sonn said the company wants to “uncover the truth, show the world what has happened, prosecute any wrongdoing and reinstate trust.” All board members have agreed to quit immediately if they are implicated in any wrongdoing, she said.

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