Businessman Jayendra Naidoo announced this week that his Lancaster Group had laid a R12 billion claim against Steinhoff International Holdings, adding to the existing multibillion-rand barrage of lawsuits against the corrupt multinational.
The claim is in the name of Lancaster 101, a special-purpose vehicle debt-funded by the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) in 2016 to buy shares in Steinhoff equalling 2.75% of the formidable – at the time – JSE-listed group.
The Government Employees’ Pension Fund (GEPF) owns 50% of Lancaster 101 while Naidoo owns 25% and the Lancaster Foundation owns the other 25%.
The announcement on Thursday came after Steinhoff this week seemingly opened the door for negotiated settlements with shareholders who lost money instead of facing off against them in consolidated class-action lawsuits.
In an announcement on the JSE news service, Sens, the company asked that “representatives of claimants [groups] disclose to the Company ... relevant information on [among other things] the identity of claimants and the size of their shareholdings”.
“The Company wishes to emphasise that the fact that such requests have been made does not mean that negotiated settlements will eventually be agreed or are imminent.”
Naidoo’s claim is not part of a group claim, but could signal that he is throwing his hat in the ring for a settlement negotiation.
The 2016 Lancaster investment in Steinhoff was known as Project Sierra within the PIC.
It involved the PIC lending Lancaster 101 R9.4 billion to buy its initial shares in Steinhoff, but the deal was fortuitously massively restructured in 2017 shortly before the crash of Steinhoff.
At the time Steinhoff was merging African operations and Shoprite to create a new listed company initially called SteinhoffAfrica Retail. After the name Steinhoff became tainted, this company changed its name to Pepkor. The restructuring entailed the 2.75% ownership in Steinhoff falling to 1.2% while Lancaster 102 acquired 8.8% of Pepkor now worth about R5.3 billion.
Highly placed sources in the PIC had previously told City Press that this restructuring was, in hindsight, a great deal considering what happened to Steinhoff.
Earlier the PIC also separately acquired 6.35% of Steinhoff directly for the GEPF which was worth R15.5 billion before the crash of the company’s share price at the end of 2017 when massive fraud to inflate profits was discovered.
That investment is now worth R485 million – a R15 billion loss.