South Africa's Steinhoff Scandal Takes Grim Turn As Former CEO Found Dead In Apparent Suicide After Historic Fine For Corporate Fraud

In a tragic turn of events, Markus Jooste, the former CEO of Steinhoff International, took his own life on Thursday. This occurred just a day after he was slapped with a historic fine in South Africa for his involvement in a corporate fraud that led to the company’s collapse.

What Happened: The 63-year-old Jooste was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound near his home in Hermanus, a coastal town in South Africa, reported The Wall Street Journal on Friday. This incident followed the imposition of a record fine on Jooste by South Africa’s Financial Sector Conduct Authority or FSCA for his role in the fraud that led to Steinhoff’s collapse.

Jooste, who was the CEO of Steinhoff until December 2017, had been under investigation for years, along with other executives, for accounting irregularities that led to the company’s liquidation. Despite denying any knowledge of the irregularities, Jooste was labeled the “mastermind” behind the effort to conceal billions of dollars in financial losses at Steinhoff.

The FSCA fined Jooste $25 million, marking the first formal finding of his responsibility for the company’s downfall. This ruling is expected to be included in the ongoing criminal investigation in South Africa.

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Why It Matters: Steinhoff, a family-owned furniture retailer based in South Africa, was known as “Africa’s IKEA” for its home-furnishing retail chains. The company, which was the holding company for over 40 retail brands in more than 30 countries across four continents, including Mattress Firm, collapsed in December 2017 following the revelation of accounting irregularities.

Jooste, who was once celebrated as one of South Africa’s most successful businessmen, was found to have been paid over 710 million South African rand (around $37 million) in cash, bonuses, and other long-term incentives by Steinhoff between 2014 and 2017, the report noted.

Despite his apparent success, an investigation by accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers revealed that Steinhoff had recorded fictitious and irregular transactions amounting to 6.5 billion euros ($7.4 billion at the time) between the 2009 and 2017 financial years. 

Jooste’s successor as CEO, Louis du Preez, identified him as the unnamed management executive who according to PwC led a small group of senior Steinhoff executives in inflating the company’s profit and asset values for several years.

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Disclaimer: This content was partially produced with the help of Benzinga Neuro and was reviewed and published by Benzinga editors.

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