Hawks seek assistance from Austria in Steinhoff matter
Investigating unit sends request for help to get to the bottom of fraud and misrepresentation case
An application for legal assistance to source evidence in the Steinhoff matter has been finalised and sent to Austria, Hawks boss Lt-Gen Godfrey Lebeya says.
At the centre of the saga is former Steinhoff CEO Markus Jooste, one of the senior executives who was at the helm of the retailer ahead of its collapse in December 2017.
Late in 2018, Jooste told parliamentarians that he was not aware of any financial irregularities on the day he resigned. He instead blamed the crisis on a protracted dispute with Austrian business partner Andreas Seifert, which triggered investigations into Steinhoff by European regulators and tax authorities.
Steinhoff largely settled the impasse with Seifert by selling half its German furniture chain POCO to Seifert, who had sued the retailer in three countries.
The Hawks are investigating various matters relating to Steinhoff involving fraud, misrepresentation and the loss of billions of rand for investors.
Separate investigations by PwC have uncovered the overstatement of income and assets at the retailer.
Civil society groups and various experts have previously suggested that the Hawks and other law enforcement agencies do not have the capacity to investigate such complex cases. Briefing parliament’s police committee in 2018, Lebeya conceded this. He said at the time that the organisation did not have sufficient capacity to deal with some of the commercial crimes, and it had to look for assistance.
Briefing MPs on Wednesday on high-profile crimes, Lebeya said to date four dockets have been registered and a report in terms of section 34 (1) of the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act of 2004, relating to the Steinhoff matter, have been received.
“All of these complaints are investigated together. The allegations are that during the period from 2015 financial year Steinhoff Investment Holdings Ltd (SA) has been submitting false, misleading or deceptive financial statements to attract investors in contravention of section 81 of the Financial Markets Act, 2012. When the allegation became known in December 2017 the value of the shares dropped significantly resulting to substantial prejudice to the investors,” Lebeya said.
Investigations were continuing and the Hawks were awaiting feedback from the European authorities, he said.
Lebeya also provided MPs with an update on the investigation into Bosasa, the corruption-accused facilities management firm which recently applied for voluntary liquidation.
“Seven suspects … were arrested on 6 February 2019 by the directorate on allegations of corruption, money laundering and fraud. The sweeping high-profile arrests follows a marathon investigation wherein almost R1.6bn is said to have been misappropriated in the tender processes for the procurement of various services by the department of correctional services,” said Lebeya.
Allegations are that Bosasa, now trading as African Global Operations, paid bribes to various government officials to secure lucrative state contracts. The case is expected to be heard later this month.