- A court in Germany has split its criminal trial against four defendants accused of balance sheet fraud at retailer Steinhoff into two - due, in part, to travel restrictions.
- The court in the town of Oldenburg says it will first be proceeding with a trial against two defendants living in Germany.
- A spokesperson says criminal proceedings against two other defendants - which Fin24 understands likely includes former Steinhoff CEO Markus Jooste - have not been terminated.
Authorities in Germany are moving forward with a criminal trial against two people previously linked to retailer Steinhoff, according to a spokesperson for a court in the north-German town of Oldenburg.
Oldenburg is situated near the town of Westerstede, home to one of Steinhoff's largest European subsidiaries - Steinhoff Europe Group Services.
While the names of the two defendants have not yet been made public, they are unlikely to include that of former Steinhoff CEO Markus Jooste.
In a statement on Monday, the court said it had decided to "split" the Steinhoff proceedings into two separate cases.
Its initial case will deal with two defendants who are living in Germany. A decision on how to proceed against the two other defendants who are living abroad - which Fin24 understands likely includes former Steinhoff CEO Markus Jooste - is still to be taken.
In a statement, the court said the decision to separate the two cases was taken to avoid delays caused by travel restrictions and quarantine requirements.
"The proceedings against the two defendants residing abroad will still continue here [in Germany]," court spokesperson Dr Thiemo Reinecke told Fin24. "It has not been discontinued or terminated."
He explained that the two cases would now continue independently of each other.
As Fin24 reported in March this year, Jooste, two former Steinhoff executives and one other person were charged with balance sheet fraud which took place between July 2011 and January 2015 by the public prosecutor's office in Oldenburg.
While the office did not name the accused in line with German criminal procedures when the charges were announced, a source with knowledge of the probe said that Jooste was among those charged.
In the six months since then, the Oldenburg regional court has been undertaking what is known in German as a Zwischenverfahrnen – where a court reviews the prosecutor's complaint to decide whether there is enough evidence to formally start the trial.
The German probe into Steinhoff is separate from an investigation into fraud and money laundering between 2009 and 2017 being conducted by the Hawks, who have not announced any charges yet.
Jooste's South African lawyer, Callie Albertyn, previously told Fin24 his client would not be commenting.
* Update: This article has been updated to clarify that the two defendants living in Germany were previously linked to Steinhoff.