"My dear friend, I apologise for the damage I caused Steinhoff. I made big mistakes and now I have to pay the price for it."
This SMS, which Markus Jooste, former chief executive of Steinhoff, allegedly sent to a friend on December 6, 2017 was revealed in court documents last week in a trial relating to legal action against him and Steinhoff.
The trial dealt with an exception Jooste lodged to a claim of R740m which the trustees of Le Toit Trust, including Jaap du Toit, founding member and former long-time director of the PSG Group, brought against him. The court also heard Jooste's exception in a separate claim for the same amount against Steinhoff, in which he had been joined as a third party.
The claim by Le Toit Trust relates to PSG shares Du Toit swapped for Steinhoff shares in 2015.
Jooste alleged in his defence, which was heard in the Cape Town High Court by Judge Matthew Francis on Thursday, that the details of the claim are vague and embarrassing.
Advocates Schalk Burger SC and Piet Olivier, who represented Le Toit Trust, concluded their written heads of argument with the alleged SMS from Jooste.
According to court documents, the SMS was sent by Jooste to his friend Jo Grove shortly after the scandal relating to Steinhoff erupted in December 2017 when the company could not release its annual financial statements because the auditors were not prepared to sign off on them and Jooste then suddenly resigned.
The court documents allege that on December 6 Jooste sent the SMS to Grove. According to the court documents, the SMS said (in Afrikaans): "My dear friend, I apologise for the damage I caused Steinhoff. I made big mistakes and have to pay the price for those. Not Danie, Ben, Mariza or Stehan [Grobler] were involved at all. Once again terribly sorry!"
Grove then replies (in Afrikaans): "Hey my friend what is going on?"
To this Jooste allegedly responded (in Afrikaans): "I tried my best Jo but the bus was too big and America's shit impacted us in a bad way and I tried to hide it and got up to shit...I apologise Jo! Would you PLEASE look after Stefan [Potgieter, Jooste's son-in-law] and Michael [Jooste's son] on my behalf during this difficult time they are going through?"
In the alleged SMS Jooste seems to be absolving another two directors of Steinhoff and two other top executives by name.
Grove was for many years a director of Steinhoff and is currently the deputy chair of KAP Industrial.
Burger and Olivier argued that "a man that can, immediately after a scandal in which he is involved breaks, apologise, take responsibility and absolve four others, cannot turn around when sued for his role in that scandal and claim that he cannot parse particulars of claim that his erstwhile colleagues have no problem understanding."
Jooste was not present at court. He was represented by advocates Jeremy Muller SC and Matthew Blumberg. They are assisted by Callie Albertyn of De Klerk & Van Gend.
According to Riaan Meintjes of Hayes Inc., who represents the plaintiffs, they are now awaiting the verdict by Francis to find out if the exception which Jooste filed is valid. If the exception is rejected by the judge, Jooste would have to submit his plea.
The claim against Steinhoff, Jooste and Ben la Grange, former financial head of Steinhoff, commenced in August last year. The defendants have all pleaded except Jooste who intended to lodge an exception to the summons.
The plaintiffs thereafter withdrew the application against Jooste and issued a new one in which he is the only defendant.
Steinhoff has in the meantime again joined Jooste as a third party in the first claim. Jooste then again filed an exception against the case against him and the case where he is the third party.
The plaintiffs allege that Jooste and La Grange, at the time this suggestion was made, knew, among other things, that the published financial statements of the company were misleading. In the summons the trustees said Jooste and La Grange acted on behalf of Steinhoff in June 2015 and made material representations that they knew were false.
La Grange submitted his plea in the claim against Steinhoff, where he is one of the defendants, at the end of October. He denies the allegations against him.
* Correction: This article previously referred to Stehan Grobler as Stephan (sic) Potgieter. It was updated at 18:11 on 7 August 2019.