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Ex-Steinhoff CFO Ben la Grange could be subpoenaed by Parliament

JOHANNESBURG — Trying to get ex-Steinhoff execs to appear before Parliament to account for the company’s collapse seems to be as hard as trying to get the Guptas to appear at inquiries into state capture. Both Markus Jooste and ex-Steinhoff CFO Ben La Grange have now both avoided answering MPs in Parliament. Those MPs are now turning to the law to force these executives to be accountable. It’s becoming a game of legal cat and mouse, with the lawyers benefitting the most from the situation. But at least, unlike the Guptas, La Grange and Co. are still in South Africa. – Gareth van Zyl

By Janice Kew

(Bloomberg) — Steinhoff International Holdings NV former Chief Financial Officer Ben La Grange could be legally ordered to appear before a South African parliamentary committee after declining to attend a scheduled hearing next week.

The severity of Steinhoff’s accounting crisis and subsequent impact on public-sector pension funds requires La Grange to be held to account, the finance committee said in a statement Tuesday. It’s requested the Speaker’s office to issue a subpoena immediately for the former CFO to answer questions at a parliamentary briefing on Aug. 29.

Ben la Grange.
Former Steinhoff Chief Financial Officer Ben La Grange

La Grange worked under Steinhoff ex-Chief Executive Officer Markus Jooste, who quit when Steinhoff reported accounting irregularities that triggered a share price collapse in December. The ex-CFO stepped down the following month, but has remained an employee at the owner of Conforama in France and Mattress Firm in the U.S. to help repair the company’s finances.

La Grange won’t attend next week’s hearing because his lawyer is unavailable, the committee said. Jooste has also repeatedly refused to appear, with his lawyer saying he’s no longer a Steinhoff employee and therefore can’t speak on behalf of the company. The lawmakers are looking into the viability of a subpoena for the ex-CEO.

La Grange’s lawyer “has dropped his client in the political soup making him look like he has something to hide by dodging a grilling in Parliament,” David Maynier, the finance spokesman for the opposition Democratic Alliance, said by phone.

The hearing was initially set for Aug. 22, but was postponed because Steinhoff representatives are at a court hearing in the Netherlands instead. La Grange had been willing to appear on the earlier date, his lawyer told the committee.

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