Ex-Steinhoff boss denies knowledge of accounts scandal

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The former chief executive of South African retail giant Steinhoff told lawmakers Wednesday he had no knowledge of accounting irregularities that caused the company to lose 95 percent of its market value.

Markus Jooste, who had not been seen in public since resigning in December as the scandal broke, appeared in front of a parliamentary committee after fighting a legal battle to try to avoid questioning.

"When I left Steinhoff... I was not aware of any accounting irregularities at the company," he told lawmakers in Cape Town.

"I was not aware of anyone that acted deliberately or knowingly in violation of Steinhoff's code of conduct."

Amid widespread public and political anger at the company's near-bankruptcy, Jooste added that the impact of Steinhoff's massive losses on pensioners and investors "saddens" him but declined to give further details.

Frustrated lawmakers repeatedly questioned Jooste about his role in the scandal.

But he firmly defended his actions and said that he had no information about the company after he left in December, abruptly ending 29 years as an employee.

Steinhoff was seen as one of South Africa's most successful firms, attracting fund investors impressed by its sprawling, consumer-focused empire with outposts in 30 countries.

Its businesses include British high street discounter Poundland, France's Ligue 1 sponsor Conforama and Pep Africa, which runs the continent's largest clothing factory.

At the end of last year, Steinhoff revealed it was under criminal and tax investigations, with a reported six-billion-euro ($7-billion) hole in its accounts.

Auditors at PwC are investigating Steinhoff's accounts, while Jooste is being probed for fraud by South African police.

Jooste blamed a clash with auditors Deloitte for his departure from the company in December.

© 2018 AFP

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