COURT PAPERS FILED
Former Star employees suspected of sabotage
Former Steinhoff Africa Retail (Star) employees allegedly conspired to sabotage subsidiary Tekkie Town’s information technology (IT) systems to prevent payments at tills from being executed, as well as steal company information and intellectual property.
This is according to court papers filed last week by Star, which accuses former Tekkie Town employees of conspiracy to sabotage the retailer.
Revelations by IT employee Werner de Bruin, whose affidavit accompanied the court papers, paints another cynical twist in the relations between Star, previous shareholders and Tekkie Town executives.
In a brief statement issued on the JSE’s investor news service on Friday afternoon, Star said it had obtained a court order preventing Tekkie Town founder Braam van Huyssteen, previous CEO Bernard Mostert, previous head of IT Willem Wait and technician Anton Roetz from "conducting certain actions against Star", which included interference and "destabilising operations".
The latter three resigned as part of a larger walkout nearly two weeks ago, while Van Huyssteen resigned with immediate effect from his role as the chairman of the property and speciality fashion and footwear division — under which Tekkie Town reported — in May.
Steinhoff acquired footwear retailer Tekkie Town for R3.2bn in 2016, before hiving it off as part of its Africa-focused operations in Star. Steinhoff itself collapsed in December under the weight of accounting fraud allegedly perpetrated by former CE Markus Jooste.
According to the draft order granted on Friday, the four former executives are restrained from "accessing, continuing to access or interfere" with the Tekkie Town IT system, and the judge instructed the National Prosecuting Authority to investigate the matter.
De Bruin, a business intelligence developer at Tekkie Town, said he felt as if he was on a "holy mission" when, along with about 100 other staff, he resigned on the day that Mostert and chief operating officer Dawie van Niekerk left the company in late June.
He claims the resignations were premeditated and instigated by Van Huyssteen when it was clear neither he nor Mostert would be successful in acquiring Tekkie Town or the entire speciality division from Star.
De Bruin said the resignations were "a test of our loyalty" and if we passed it we would be "taken care of".
Van Huyssteen denied this to Business Day last week, saying he had not incited any employees to resign. He said he had only undertaken to look after them using his own resources.
De Bruin’s affidavit included transcripts of telephone conversations between himself and Wait. In the days following the mass resignations, Wait apparently got a "code red" from Van Huyssteen. "I was told to ‘f*ck up every POS [point of sale] profile’ … so they can’t access any of them, override the terminal names and numbers, and affect the connection between the server and POS terminal and cover it up," De Bruin said. He also claims Roetz, a technician, was instructed to go and buy hard drives with Mostert’s credit card and make back-ups of "all databases and intellectual property" with the purpose of taking it off site.
The affidavit also sets out how Mostert made an offer of R2bn plus accepting liability for all claims, to buy back Tekkie Town, but that Jayendra Naidoo (Star chairman) declined, saying they wanted the R3.2bn Steinhoff had paid for the asset.
Mostert, representing the respondents in the case, says they are seeking legal advice on how to proceed.