Markus Jooste quit as Steinhoff CEO one year ago on December 6 2017. File Picture: RAYMOND PRESTON/SUNDAY TIMES
Markus Jooste quit as Steinhoff CEO one year ago on December 6 2017. File Picture: RAYMOND PRESTON/SUNDAY TIMES

It’s exactly a year since Markus Jooste quit as CEO of Steinhoff International at the start of an unfolding accounting scandal and share-price collapse. Yet so far, he has been largely left in peace.

While many of his former colleagues have battled investors, bankers and regulators around the clock to keep the global retailer afloat, Jooste has led the mostly quiet existence of a retired multimillionaire. He’s made only one public appearance in an official capacity — to face questions in parliament in September about his role in the crisis — before retreating again into a life of relative normality.

That may change in the next few months, with a long-awaited forensic report into Steinhoff’s finances due to be completed by February. Auditors at PwC are expected to describe a series of third-party transactions and inflated asset valuations at the heart of the retailer’s collapse, and, as the CEO who presided over the alleged financial wrongdoing, Jooste’s name is likely to feature. That could trigger a series of moves against the former CEO, as out-of-pocket investors and law-enforcement agencies look for someone to hold responsible.

The following account of Jooste’s movements over the past year is based on numerous interviews over several months with people linked to him who requested anonymity discussing private matters. Jooste and his lawyer, Callie Albertyn, didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Abusive graffiti

There are signs that Jooste is already wary of the prospect of a return to the spotlight. The curtains and blinds of his nearly 2,000m² property in the whale-watching town of Hermanus, part of it bought for R11m in 2005, are firmly drawn. Abusive graffiti has been sprayed on the walls — and has been only crudely painted over.

Elsewhere in Hermanus, a 5,000m² plot bought by Jooste for R36.5m lies desolate. Development of the property, in a spectacular location with endless ocean and mountain views, was abandoned after Jooste’s wealth declined by at least R3bn in the wake of Steinhoff’s collapse. Even so, local residents still have to contend with the plot’s high walls that block access for people who like to walk along the cliffs and beaches.

Not far away in Stellenbosch, where Steinhoff has its head offices, Jooste shares a farm surrounded by mountains and vineyards. The area has been home to at least four former Steinhoff directors and associates.

One of his neighbours there is Jannie Mouton, the founder of investment firm PSG Group and previously a nonexecutive director of Steinhoff. Having once produced wines together on a noncommercial basis, Mouton has changed the labels on all the bottles bearing Jooste’s name. The two restaurants that carry stock do the same, according to a source familiar with the businessman’s activities.

Hanging out

To be sure, Jooste has sold some assets in 2018. Having bought 978 at Val de Vie, a sprawling Western Cape residence with vineyards and space for 10 horses, for R10.5m two years prior, he put it on the market for R15m in January. He has also sold some of his race horses and resigned as a director of many companies.

Still, Jooste can be seen every few weeks at the Vasco da Gama Taverna, a Portuguese pub in Cape Town. And in Hermanus, he’s said to be a regular at Burgundy Restaurant, an eatery offering seafood and fine wine along with ocean views.

Bubbling in the background isn’t only the looming PwC report, but a summons by prosecutors in the Netherlands. Allegations of numerous related-party transactions have surfaced. Former chair Christo Wiese is suing Steinhoff for R59bn, while other investors have hit Steinhoff with class-action lawsuits.

All are preparing their next move.

Bloomberg