April 20, 2018 / 11:05 AM / a month ago

Crisis-hit Steinhoff to face shareholders for first time since scandal

CAPE TOWN/AMSTERDAM April 20 (Reuters) - Investors in Steinhoff will get the opportunity to grill the board on Friday over an accounting scandal that surfaced in December and wiped more than $10 billion off its market value.

The South African company, which runs chains such as Poundland, Mattress Firm and the Conforama, is fighting for survival after discovering holes in its books, delayed its annual results and led to the departure of its chief executive and chairman.

The shareholder meeting, the first since the company revealed “accounting irregularities,” in December will be held in Amsterdam and streamed live to an exhibition and trade show centre in Cape Town at 11 GMT.

Shareholder rights group VEB, which is suing the company, along with banks that prepared its stock market flotation in Frankfurt in 2015, plans to put questions to the board about the scandal.

“We still know next to nothing about what actually happened. It’s been five months already,” said Armand Kersten of VEB. “Every single decision that shareholders make, they have to make in the absence of information, and the company’s directors are responsible for that.”

Outside Cape Town convention centre, dozens of protesters, led by civil servants union Public Service Union (PSA), held up placards that read: “arrogance is not the solution” and “hands off our provident funds”.

“Our main concern is that the current board that is sitting in Steinhoff are the ones that are responsible for the loss of pension money, which directly affects our members and pensioners. So they must do the honourable thing and just resign,” Reuben Maleka, a member of trade union PSA. Steinhoff’s accounting problems stretch back to at least the 2015 financial year, it has said. It has asked auditors PwC to get to the bottom of the problems.

Separately, the company, which moved its primary share listing from Johannesburg to Frankfurt two years ago, has been under investigation for suspected accounting fraud in Germany since 2015.

It has previously said that investigation relates to whether revenues were booked properly and whether taxable profits were correctly declared. (Reporting by Wendell Roelf in Cape Town and Toby Sterling in Amsterdam Writing by Tiisetso Motsoeneng; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

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