Jayendra Naidoo. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
Jayendra Naidoo. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

It was almost as though "Steinhoff — the R200bn disaster" had never happened; as though the company had not until recently been called Steinhoff Africa Retail (Star). Without any pesky activist shareholder, notably Theo Botha, to ask questions, this week’s AGM at Pepkor, formerly known as Star, was done and dusted within 29 minutes. That included nine minutes trying, unsuccessfully, to sort out a faulty microphone system.

Not one question was asked, not one issue raised and all the resolutions were overwhelmingly supported. Even the remuneration report scored an enviable 94% backing. It was, as chair Jayendra Naidoo described it, a smooth AGM. All of which was probably not surprising, given that Steinhoff holds 71% of the shares and Naidoo’s BEE company Lancaster 101 — which is backed by the Public Investment Corp (PIC) — another 9%. And as we know, powerful institutional shareholders such as Coronation and Old Mutual (which feature among the remaining shareholders) prefer to engage behind closed doors.

So it was down to a few dogged journalists to ask, once the AGM was over, about the Mpati inquiry into the PIC as well as the high-profile spat with Tekkie Town founder Braam van Huyssteen. The PIC’s R9.3bn investment in Lancaster is one of the nine transactions the Mpati commission is focusing on. Unsurprisingly perhaps, Naidoo told the journalists he would not discuss the inquiry. As for the Tekkie Town spat, Naidoo said despite it being a "colourful" media story, it was not a material issue for Pepkor, which he said was trading well in a tough market. He said Pepkor was in a stable position: "We’re past the notion of a crisis at shareholder level."

Steinhoff CEO Louis du Preez, one of the nonexecutive directors in attendance, was a bit more forthcoming. The release of the long-awaited independent forensic investigation into Steinhoff by PwC is "imminent", said Du Preez, adding that he was working to finalise the Steinhoff International Holdings’ group audited financial statements for 2017 and 2018.

The findings of the PwC report were initially expected to be handed to Steinhoff executives in December 2018 but it was delayed to February 2019. Du Preez said the Hawks would be given a copy of the report and it was up to them to decide whether to pursue criminal action against any party.

The Steinhoff team will be back in parliament next Tuesday (March 19) to provide MPs with an update on developments.