Markus Jooste. Picture: Raymond Preston/Sunday Times
Markus Jooste. Picture: Raymond Preston/Sunday Times

A mass sale of art by former Steinhoff International CEO Markus Jooste caused a slump in the price of paintings by famed SA artist Jacob Hendrik Pierneef, according to people familiar with the matter.

Jooste quit as head of Steinhoff the day the global retailer reported accounting irregularities in late 2017, and has since been identified by the retailer as the chief architect of various financial dealings that triggered the company’s near collapse. He’s the subject of an R850m claim for damages by Steinhoff, among other lawsuits, though hasn’t been charged and denies wrongdoing.

A locally known art collector, Jooste has been selling various works through private dealers to raise funds, said the people, who asked not to be named as the transactions are not public. He owned a number of works by Pierneef, a prolific landscape painter who died in 1957 and remains a staple of auction houses in Johannesburg and Cape Town, they said.

Jooste and his lawyer, Callie Albertyn, did not respond to requests for comment.

Confused dealers

A record price of almost R20.5m for a Pierneef work was paid for “Farm Jonkershoek with Twin Peaks Beyond, Stellenbosch” in June 2017, about six months before the Steinhoff scandal erupted. Art dealers had expected the market to grow from there, but were left confused when some works the following year went unsold, one of the people said. Word quickly spread that Jooste was offloading at least part of his collection.

Strauss & Co sold nine Pierneef lots for a combined R9.65m in Cape Town earlier in October, marking a “return to form”. according to an October 15 statement on the auctioneer’s website. “Prices had been diluted by a recent fire sale by a distressed collector,” it said, without being more specific.

Jooste made a number of moves to realise funds in the weeks after Steinhoff’s shares crashed. He put a plot on a luxury estate up for sale and his then-investment firm offloaded a champion racehorse.

He has also disposed of his portion of Jonkersdrift Farm in Stellenbosch, near Cape Town, according to three people familiar with the matter. Jooste had co-owned Jonkersdrift with two other former Steinhoff directors, Frikkie Nel and Danie van der Merwe.

Steinhoff was also forced to sell assets to shore up its balance sheet and remain in operation. The owner of Mattress Firm in the US and the UK’s Poundland sold Austrian furniture chain Rudolf Leiner and stakes in firms such as KAP Industrial Holdings, among other assets.

With Janice Kew

Bloomberg