PSA wants to join class action case against Steinhoff

Cape Town - Trade union the Public Servants Association (PSA) says it has approached the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) to join an international class action suit against embattled SA retailer Steinhoff. 

In a media briefing on Thursday in Cape Town, PSA deputy general manager Tahir Maepa said the union had approached the PIC in December to join a class action suit against the global retailer.

The PIC invests on behalf of, and manages the assets of government employees.

“The PIC indicated that it would join the international class action,” he said.

Maepa said SA state workers had lost about R17bn due to the dramatic fall in Steinhoff’s share price. 

The PIC is one of the biggest investors in Steinhoff, whose share price has fallen sharply since news broke that its CEO Markus Jooste was stepping down amid an accounting scandal on December 5. 

On Thursday at 15:45 Steinhoff shares were changing hands at R7.23 a share. This is over 80% down on the conglomerate’s share price the evening before Jooste abruptly resigned.  

The PIC did not immediately reply to a request for comment. 

There are a number of different class action lawsuites in the works against Steinhoff, which is registered in Amsterdam and trades on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, including by Dutch and German firms.  

At the briefing, the PSA also gave its initial reaction to a trove of Steinhoff documents, including minutes of board meetings and financials, that it was given last week. 

While the union said it had only been able to conduct a “preliminary look” at the documents, there was cause for concern.

The PSA’s chief accountant, Dominic Storm, said it appeared to make no sense that Steinhoff chief shareholder, Christo Wiese, was also the chair of its board. 

Wiese stepped down from the company in mid-December. 

Storm said the union was also investigating why it appeared that Steinhoff's tax rate had remained relatively flat over the past few years, while its declared revenues had increased year-on-year. 

But he noted the union did not yet believe there was a “prima facia” case against the group, and it would still conduct a deep analysis of the documents. 

The union also said that it would not disrupt the upcoming Sun Met horse race on Saturday, but would hold a "solidarity march" against Jooste's role in the South African horse racing fraternity.  

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