Steinhoff CEO Markus Jooste. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Steinhoff CEO Markus Jooste. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

Steinhoff International CEO Marcus Jooste resigned on Tuesday night, and the release of the company's full-year results - originally scheduled for Wednesday - has been delayed indefinitely.

The CEO of recently unbundled Steinhoff African Retail (Star), Ben la Grange, has also resigned with immediate effect but will remain as a nonexecutive director on Star's board.

The JSE's director of issuer regulation John Burke told Reuters the bourse was in talks with Steinhoff to get answers on the investigation of possible accounting irregularities.

Steinhoff''s share price crashed 61% to R17.56 shortly after the JSE opened at 9am from Tuesday's  R45.65 closing price.

In Frankfurt, Steinhoff similarly crashed 52% to €1.42.

Star's share price fell 29% to R17.55 on Wednesday morning following the announcement of Jooste's departure.

The share price of KAP Industrial, the former manufacturing arm of Steinhoff, fell 14% to R7.45.

Steinhoff's chairman, retail tycoon Christo Wiese, alongside former Pepkor CEO Pieter Erasmus, will run Steinhoff until a new CEO is appointed, a statement issued at 10.45pm on Tuesday night said.

La Grange has been replaced by Star chief operating officer  Leon Lourens as CEO with immediate effect, the company said on Wednesday.

“The supervisory board of Steinhoff wishes to advise shareholders that new information has come to light today which relates to accounting irregularities requiring further investigation,” the statement said.

“The supervisory board, in consultation with the statutory auditors of the company, has approached PwC to perform an independent investigation.”

Jooste had tendered his resignation with immediate effect, and the board had accepted it, Tuesday night’s statement said.

“It’s a red flag, this is something very serious,” Peter Brooke, portfolio manager at Old Mutual Investment Group, a top 20 shareholder in Steinhoff, told Reuters. It also raised wider questions about South African corporate governance and would have a negative impact on the country’s assets, he said.

Jooste, who had been with Steinhoff since 1988 and was CEO of Steinhoff International since 2000, was credited with growing the South African furniture manufacturer and retailer into Europe's second-largest player, behind Ikea, via a string of acquisitions including France's Conforama chain.

The group’s share price has fallen 18.2% from Friday’s closing price of R55.81 to R45.65 on Tuesday after warning shareholders on Monday its results would not be signed by its auditors.

“The supervisory board and the statutory auditors of the company have not yet finalised their review of certain matters and circumstances, most of which were raised by the criminal and tax investigation in Germany, as previously reported,” Monday’s statement said.

Steinhoff said on Tuesday its results for the year to end-September would be released “when it is in a position to do so”.

It warned shareholders it may have to restate past financial statements. 

Jooste also resigned as a nonexecutive director of PSG Financial Services with immediate effect. Theodore de Klerk was appointed as his replacement, PSG said on Wednesday.

The Financial Times reported that South African audit watchdog Irba said it was watching the Steinhoff developments closely.

The FT approached Deloitte - which was appointed the company’s external auditor in 2015 and audited its accounts in 2015 and 2016, according to Steinhoff’s annual reports.

But Deloitte declined to comment, citing client confidentiality obligations.

With Reuters

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