MPs resolve to subpoena Markus Jooste

Cape Town – Parliament’s joint-committees have agreed to follow a process to subpoena former Steinhoff CEO Markus Jooste, after he declined an invitation to appear before them.

The committees on finance, public accounts, trade and industry and public service and administration on Wednesday discussed how they would pursue Jooste.

Jooste resigned from the company with effect of December 6, 2017 due to accounting irregularities at the retail holding company. This saw the share plummet from R46.24 when markets closed at December 5, 2017 to as low as R3.20 as at March 27, 2017. The share opened at R3.30 on Wednesday morning.

Jooste’s lawyers wrote to the committees excusing their client. Among the reasons Jooste will not appear before Parliament was that he believes he will not be able to provide meaningful assistance to the committees now that he has resigned.  

Other reasons given include that the FSB is also investigating the matter and has summoned Jooste who will be interrogated on issues related to Steinhoff.

Jooste’s lawyers also raised concerns that his appearance before the committees could undermine his right to a fair trial. Jooste is under criminal investigation by the Hawks.

Chair of the standing committee of finance Yunus Carrim told Fin24 on Tuesday that Jooste’s reason that he could not appear before the committees because he is no longer with Steinhoff was unacceptable to the committees.

"In fact it is precisely Mr Jooste that has most to account for in the collapse of the Steinhoff shares and its implications for a wide range of people in our country and elsewhere in the world,” he said.

At the hearing on Wednesday, Carrim reiterated these views calling Jooste’s reason a “lame excuse”. “Under his leadership Steinhoff shares collapsed,” he said.

“What I can tell you, Jooste will not come,” said Carrim, who called on the co-chairs to pursue a subpoena against Jooste.

Carrim explained it is important to bring the matter before the courts to provide legal clarity. It is possible that the court would say that Jooste’s right to a fair trial transcends Parliament’s right to summons a person to appear before it, for this reason the courts must weigh in to provide clarity, he explained.  

“We should take it to court anyway – so we can get some legal clarity.”

Carrim confirmed to journalists during recess that after the hearing, the process to launch the subpoena will begin. Advocate Jenkins will be mandated to engage with the speaker's office and the legal services unit.

Former Chief Financial officer Ben la Grange also declined an invitation to appear before Parliament on Wednesday. La Grange's lawyers told the committees that they only knew on Friday morning that he had to appear before Parliament and requested more time to consider the matter. The committees resolved that La Grange has 10 days to indicate whether he will willingly appear before the committee in August, alternatively the committees will also issue a summons for him.

Steinhoff exec bonuses to be put on hold

During the hearing, among the issues MPs raised concerns about include the the proposed bonuses to be paid to Steinhoff executives. 

Chair of the portfolio committee on trade and industry and ANC MP Joanmariae Fubbs asked that the bonus payouts be placed on hold.

Steinhoff's attorney, Robert Driman said that the notice of the AGM, to be held on April 20, includes information on remuneration proposed for executives.

The decision to approve the proposals depends on the shareholders, Driman said. 

Fin24 previously reported that a payout of R2.92m is proposed for three senior board members.  

Steinhoff’s lawyers Werksmans Attorneys and PwC made presentations on behalf of the holding company. The executives are engaged in a global conference where the future strategy of the retail group is being determined, according to attorney Robert Driman.

PwC's Africa's forensic services leader and partner Louis Strydom spoke on the progress of the investigation. he indicated that there have been no obstructions to the investigation and where information appeared to be witheld management stepped in to ensure the release of information.

Strydom said that PwC was not told by executives or non-executive directors how to conduct the investigation, what to look into and what to ignore. "That to me is positive. We cannot do our work properly if we have any limitations to the scope of the investgation."

Jooste snubs PwC

Jooste declined an invitation to be interviewed by PwC. Strydom explained that all of Steinhoff's top management were interviewed, except Jooste who provided conditions which were not acceptable. 

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