Facebook / Matte Box Media
Ben la Grange appeared for the first time before parliament’s committees of finance, public accounts, trade and industry as well as public service and administration.
Facebook / Matte Box Media
On Wednesday, Ben la Grange, the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of the embattled Steinhoff, appeared, for the first time, before the parliamentary committees of finance, public accounts, trade and industry as well as public service and administration.
In attempting to provide answers to questions regarding the epic demise of the global retail group, La Grange took the defensive stance.
According to the CFO, if he has contributed towards the downfall of Steinhoff, at the time, he was not aware of it.
“I did not think I did anything deliberately wrong,” La Grange said.
Although he felt saddened by all the money that was lost by Steinhoff, La Grange maintained that a large portion of this would have been avoided if the retail group had a single auditor.
Read – Disgraced former Steinhoff CEO Markus Jooste set for grilling in Parliament
This way, La Grange continued, the misstatements that occurred from different levels of the group would have been picked up much earlier.
He admitted that in hindsight, there may have been no way to detect any foul play as the enormous group is layered with structures that have their own board and internal audit committee.
The only time he had oversight over the financial performance of these structures was when everything, passing many hands, had been consolidated into the holding company’s group financial statements.
These statements were never reaudited, according to La Grange’s testimony; however, they were useful in identifying trends and picking up on irregularities in the movement of large amounts of money.
The CFO was, for the most part, responsible for operations in Africa, although he did also oversee some parts of the United States operations too.
According to La Grange, there were three accounting irregularities that he had identified: inflated profits, the acquisition of assets at inflated values, and third-party transactions which were linked to former Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Mark Jooste.
Read – Magda Wierzycka wants ex-Steinhoff CEO Markus Jooste “thrown in jail”
The CFO has confirmed that he has been suspended two weeks ago after he was issued an invoice – that he authorised – from a buying group that never existed.
This, according to La Grange, was the main source of the inflated profits. He was allegedly made aware of an external buying group that paid rebates to operating companies.
However, to his surprise, it turned out that the buying group was a facade and instead the whole sham was financed by loans from Steinhoff.
Many of these transactions occurred in Europe, and according to La Grange, it took this long to realise this because, in the retail group’s books, the payments were recorded as income.