Reserve Bank to oppose court application over Steinhoff allegations

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The Reserve Bank is expected to oppose a court application regarding allegations that it allowed Steinhoff to move assets worth billions overseas while it was technically insolvent.

The application is being brought by Lancaster Holdings amongst others.

Senior legal journalist Karyn Maughan says the Reserve Bank is also alleged to have allowed Steinhoff’s local entities to settle claims by foreign investors.

She says the court application seeks to have a number of decisions taken by the Reserve Bank regarding the embattled retailer, declared irregular and set aside.

“From about 2014, the Reserve Bank gave approval for applications brought by Steinhoff to effectively move their headquarters out of South Africa and to create different entities that were based overseas, as well as to move about 19 billion euros overseas. Lancaster 101, which is one of the entities that bought Steinhoff shares and is 50% owned by the government employees’ pension fund, is challenging those decisions and saying there are pre-requisites within the law that weren’t properly followed they want those decisions reviewed and set aside.”

Meanwhile, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) says there is good progress in investigations regarding the Steinhoff saga, which is known as South Africa’s biggest corporate fraud.

In the Steinhoff saga, R21 billion of public funds were squandered and no arrests have yet been made.

Justice Minister Ronald Lamola maintains that investigations into accounting fraud at the embattled retail group remain the country’s priority.

NPA Spokesperson Sipho Ngwema confirmed that investigations to recoup the funds from Steinhoff or to bring those involved to book are well under way.

Ngwema says, “We need to be able to meet the standards of proving beyond any reasonable doubt that if there are any people who are guilty they can be found guilty by a court of law and therefore, that takes a long time and it means that a lot has to be done from an investigation point of view to meet all those requirements.

“We are on course and I think at the appropriate time, we will be able to make announcements with regards to milestones that we would have reached at a particular point,” added Ngwema.

Steinhoff Saga investigation is proceeding very well: NPA

Markus Jooste fined R123 million

In October, the Financial Sector Conduct Authority (FSCA) fined former Steinhoff CEO Markus Jooste and three others at least R241 million for insider trading-related breaches.

Jooste must pay nearly R123 million following the breaches that date back to 2017. He has also been ordered to pay the authority’s costs incurred while investigating the matter.

The breaches were in respect of share transactions in Steinhoff International Holdings during November and December.

FSCA found that on November 30, 2017, shortly before the much-publicised significant decrease in the market value of Steinhoff shares, Jooste was privy to Steinhoff-related inside information.

He disclosed some of the information in a “warning SMS” encouraging four individuals close to him to dispose of their Steinhoff shares prior to the publication of the information to the rest of the market.

Three recipients acted on his disclosure and encouragement and sold their shares in Steinhoff.

Jooste fined R123 million for insider trading

EFF calls for Jooste arrest

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) called for the immediate arrest of Jooste, saying he committed serious crimes of fraud, corruption and money laundering, and that the fine by the FSCA was a slap on the wrist.

“The EFF views the imposed fine by the FCSA as nothing but a slap on the wrist. The investigation into the collapse of Steinhoff International has revealed that 97% of the company’s value was wiped out, a total monetary value of just over R180 billion and left the company with a debt of more than R160 billion due to Jooste’s criminal conduct … Jooste has caused massive irreparable damage to shareholders value and the South African economy, and for this, he deserves far harsher fines.”

The EFF called on the Hawks and the NPA to arrest Jooste immediately.

“There is sufficient prima facie evidence. The failure to arrest Jooste immediately will only serve to confirm a long-held belief that Shamila Batohi is brought to the NPA to arrest black people who are at the bottom of the food chain of the corruption ecosystem. She has no intention to deal with corruption in the private sector that has reached pandemic levels.”