Steinhoff ex-CEO to tell lawmakers of finance industry flaws

Steinhoff International Holdings NV ex-Chief Executive Officer Markus Jooste has agreed to appear before South African lawmakers next week — on condition the hearing focuses on flaws in the financial industry that may have caused the retailer’s shares to collapse.

Jooste has repeatedly refused to give evidence to parliamentary committee members, with his lawyer saying he’s no longer a Steinhoff employee and therefore can’t speak on behalf of the company. He quit the owner of Mattress Firm in the U.S. and Conforama in France in December after the retailer reported a hole in its accounts, wiping out billions of dollars of market value.

“It’s bizarre that Markus Jooste will be now be summoned to assist in identifying flaws and challenges in the regulation of the financial system,” David Maynier, the opposition spokesman on finance, said in emailed comments. “We are going to have to get to the bottom of how this happened.”

While the scope of his hearing will be limited, Jooste’s Sept. 5 appearance before the finance committee in Cape Town is likely to attract considerable interest because he hasn’t spoken publicly since the eruption of the accounting scandal. Steinhoff has referred its former CEO to the police, who are investigating three cases of fraud relating to the company.

Jooste’s deal with parliament was released in a court ruling Tuesday. Ben La Grange, Steinhoff’s former chief financial officer, will answer questions on Wednesday. He was suspended by the company last week alongside former Company Secretary Stehan Grobler as part of a long-running probe into the financials.

The headquarters of Steinhoff International Holdings NV in Stellenbosch, South Africa
The headquarters of Steinhoff International Holdings NV stand in Stellenbosch, South Africa on Friday, Jan. 26, 2017. Markus Jooste, former CEO of Steinhoff International Holdings NV, is at the center of the accounting scandal that’s wiped some $14 billion off the retailer’s market value and roiled the wealthy enclave of Stellenbosch, where many prominent business leaders live, work and play. Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg