July 2, 2019 / 8:55 AM / 4 months ago

South Africa's Steinhoff seeks to recoup payments made to ex-CEO, CFO

FILE PHOTO: Steinhoff's former Chief Executive Markus Jooste appears in parliament to face a panel investigating an accounting scandal that rocked the retailer in Cape Town, South Africa, September 5, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Steinhoff International (SNHJ.J) has started legal proceedings against former Chief Executive Markus Jooste and ex-finance chief Ben La Grange to recover certain salary and bonus payments they got prior to 2017.

The South African retailer’s CEO Louis du Preez told lawmakers in March that Jooste, la Grange, along with six other people, were involved in inflating Steinhoff profits and asset values over several years, forcing the firm to restate years of financials.

Steinhoff first flagged holes in its accounts in December 2017 — leading to the exposure of a more than $7 billion (£6 billion)accounting fraud — shocking investors who had backed its rise from a small South African outfit to a discount furniture retailer straddling four continents.

Steinhoff, which is also listed in Frankfurt (SNHG.DE), said on Tuesday it launched the legal proceedings on June 19 in the Cape Town High Court. Jooste’s lawyer, Callie Albertyn, could not be immediately reached for comment.

“I can confirm on behalf of Mr. La Grange that he has received the claim from Steinhoff and that he will be defending the claim,” his lawyer Chris Hessian, said in an emailed response to questions.

“He does not wish to comment further on the matter.”

In its delayed 2017 annual report, the owner of Mattress Firm in the United States and furniture retailer Conforama in France, said that Jooste received a bonus payment of 2.1 million euros ($2.37 million) in March and May 2017. It said 500,000 euros of that amount was neither proposed by the human resources and remuneration committee nor approved by the supervisory board.

Steinhoff also said it received summons on June 21 from Barents & Krans on behalf of Hamilton B.V, initiating legal proceedings against the retailer and others “for declaratory relief relating to currently unquantified damages arising from alleged wrongful acts”.

Reporting by Nqobile Dludla; editing by Jason Neely and Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Louise Heavens

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