Steinhoff Ex-CEO Refuses to Speak to South African Lawmakers

(Bloomberg) -- Markus Jooste, former chief executive officer of Steinhoff International Holdings NV, may be subpoenaed to speak to South African lawmakers after he declined to appear before them for a second time.

The government wants Jooste to account for the near collapse of the group he helped run for almost 20 years after Steinhoff said in December it had uncovered years of accounting irregularities and the share price plummeted more than 90 percent, wiping out almost $12 billion of value. Jooste resigned as the retailer made its shock announcements and has not spoken in public since.

Jooste, 57, will not go to parliament to give his account of events because police are investigating criminal complaints against him and any statements given may undermine his right to a fair trial, Callie Albertyn, an attorney representing Jooste, said in a letter to lawmakers. “All indications are that our client will probably be prosecuted with regard to the Steinhoff matter,” Albertyn said.

The lawmakers will decide on Wednesday whether or not to subpoena Jooste, spokesman Justice Molafo said in an emailed statement. They are planning a third round of hearings in June.

Investigations Abound

Steinhoff, which owns chains including Mattress Firm in the U.S. and Conforama in France, referred Jooste to the South African police unit known as the Hawks based on its investigation into financial irregularities, acting Chairwoman Heather Sonn told lawmakers in Cape Town on Jan. 31. The company has enough evidence to suggest the former CEO may have committed offenses that breached the country’s corruption-fighting laws, she said.

Ben La Grange, Steinhoff’s former chief financial officer, will also not be at Wednesday’s hearings. He is “prepared to cooperate with the committee in its enquiries, but has not had the opportunity to consult properly with his advisers before doing so,” because he was only told on March 23 that he had been asked to appear, Chris Hessian, an attorney representing La Grange, said in a letter to lawmakers.

Representatives for Steinhoff will give a progress report on auditor PwC’s probe into its accounts. Three parliamentary committees called the meeting in order to deepen their understanding of the events and the subsequent inquiries by the company and regulators. Johannesburg’s stock exchange, the Financial Services Board, the Independent Regulatory Board for Auditors and the Hawks are also among those scheduled to present progress reports.

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