South Africa needs to hold Markus Jooste and others involved in his fraud case accountable, and the former Steinhoff CEO’s case in Germany could help the country to do it.
This is the view of Rob Rose, Financial Mail editor and author of the book “Steinheist” about the fall of Steinhoff that led to a loss of R200 billion.
Rose told The Money Show’s Bruce Whitfield that it is essential for South Africa to hold the people involved in this case accountable and that it is “vital” for the country’s corporate sector.
Despite Steinhoff’s primary listing residing in Frankfurt, it is still primarily a South African company and the largest case of fraud the country has seen.
Jooste recently failed to appear at his trial in Oldenburg, Germany, facing fraud charges.
His German lawyer, Bernd Groß, claimed he could not attend the trial because he feared being arrested at the South African border.
Jooste had allegedly entered into an arrangement with an unknown state official in 2017, whereby he cannot leave the country without the permission of South African authorities, said News24 journalist Jan Cronje.
However, South Africa’s Department of Justice said the country would generally only block someone’s passport or arrest them at the border if they have been charged and appeared in court. Neither is true of Jooste.
Jooste’s “no-show” at the trial led to the judge issuing an arrest warrant for him.
Rose said this warrant, which should ensure Jooste attends the German trial, bodes well for South Africa’s potential future case against him.
He said the German trial is critical “in the wider Steinhoff saga” for four reasons.
- The Hawks could be close to finalising their investigation
In explaining Jooste’s absence, his lawyer said, “The South African investigations are close to finalised and are expected to yield an indictment.”
This would explain Jooste’s heightened fear that he might be arrested should he try to leave the country.
Given that this investigation has been ongoing for around seven years, “This would be welcome”, said Rose.
The investigation may be nearing a close because it has taken on a narrower scope, making it easier to prove and prosecute.
- Justice delayed is justice denied
Rose said the chances of successfully prosecuting Jooste diminish proportionally to the time it takes to get Jooste in court.
This can be related to witnesses moving away, becoming unavailable for questioning or their memories fading. Evidence can also be lost in the time it takes to get to trial.
This has already proved true in the German case against Jooste, as he now faces significantly fewer charges than he would have earlier due to the strict statutes of limitations Germany enforces.
South Africa, therefore, “can’t afford to simmer for too long”.
- People are now prepared to testify against Jooste
In the German trial, people “in the greater Steinhoff architecture” have indicated their willingness to testify against Jooste. This includes his co-accused in the trial, British ex-banker George Alan Evans.
Many believe Evans assisted Jooste in his alleged fraudulent behaviour, though he has denied any wrongdoing and knowledge of Steinhoff’s affairs.
However, following a £30,000 payment, Evans’ charges have been provisionally withdrawn.
According to Rose, Evans may be joining a host of other insiders willing to testify against Jooste.
- Germany has simplified South Africa’s work
Rose said South Africa has a bad track record for prosecuting complicated cases. The Steinhoff case is one of the most complex cases of fraud the country has seen.
“The Steinhoff heist is immensely complicated, and the architects probably banked on it being too complex for anyone to unravel. But the Oldenburg prosecutors did a commendable job doing just that,” Rose wrote in the Financial Mail.
South African prosecutors, therefore, have a far easier job ahead of them when the time comes to prosecute the case here.