Third Steinhoff trial starts in Germany today, in South Africa, nothing!

The former CEO of Steinhoff, Markus Jooste. File picture: Armand Hough/Independent Newspapers

The former CEO of Steinhoff, Markus Jooste. File picture: Armand Hough/Independent Newspapers

Published Feb 19, 2024


COSATU said last week it was “deeply disheartened” by the slaps on the wrists sought by the German prosecuting authorities and judiciary for the Steinhoff corruption scandal, and by the even worse lack of action by South African authorities.

The South African umbrella labour union organisation on Friday described the 3.5 years with one year suspended, and two years wholly suspended sentences, that had been meted out to date by the German courts on two former Steinhoff executives as essentially “meaningless”.

Today will see the third trial start in Germany in response to the corruption at the international furniture retail group Steinhoff that shocked the world in 2017 and saw up to R12.5 billion worth of South African workers’ hard-earned pension funds looted.

To date, Germany has concluded two trials and secured two convictions. According to other recent reports, Steinhoff’s former CEO Markus Jooste, allegedly the kingpin behind years of cooked books at the group, faces arrest on at least two counts of fraud in that country.

In South Africa his assets have been frozen. He has also been fined R20 million by the Financial Sector Conduct Authority for insider trading, and he has received R15m in penalties from the JSE for breaching listing requirements.

“As pathetic as these sentences are given the billions of workers’ pensions involved, at least Germany has brought some of the accused to trial. South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority’s (NPA) track record in the Steinhoff scandal has been nothing short of abysmal,” Cosatu’s acting national spokesperson and parliamentary co-ordinator, Matthew Parks, said in a statement.

“It cannot be acceptable that high-profile individuals are allowed to wantonly break laws, loot pension fund investments and live a lavish lifestyle and, even when they are exposed in newspaper headlines, the prosecuting authorities sit and literally do nothing to bring justice to the victims and society,” Parks said.

“If those who run the NPA are tired or have run out of ideas, then they should spare the nation any further embarrassing lethargy and make way for those who are interested and willing to see justice done,” said Parks.

The union said Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana needed to table a bold Budget in Parliament this week to ensure that the NPA had the resources it needed to fulfil its constitutional mandate, in particular filling all prosecutorial vacancies.

“We cannot continue to be a society that normalises corruption and feeds a culture of impunity,” he said.

Today a former Steinhoff executive who worked for the retailer goes on trial in Germany for tax evasion.

A 64-year-old German executive, who has not yet been named, goes on trial for helping Steinhoff's European businesses evade €26m (about R500m) in tax between 2008 and 2012.

The Oldenburg court has not yet shared much information on the charges. The identity of the plaintiff will only be revealed once the trial starts.

Last year German courts found that Dirk Schreiber and Siegmar Schmidt, who worked with Jooste, were guilty of fraud.

Schreiber testified that Jooste had ordered him to falsify the retailer's accounts. He was sentenced to a 3.5-year jail sentence with one year suspended. Schmidt received a suspended sentence of two years.

Jooste was supposed to go to trial in the same Oldenburg courtroom, but didn't arrive for his case. The court later issued a warrant for his arrest. According to reports, German prosecutors started working on an extradition request for the former Steinhoff head late last year.