Steinhoff inches closer to settling lawsuits after gaining more support

JOHANNESBURG, Sept 10 (Reuters) - South African retailer Steinhoff International said on Friday it had gained more approval from claimants for its proposed lawsuit settlement offer to those who lost money when it revealed holes in its accounts in December 2017.

The proposal gained the final vote from contractual claimants - those who sold their businesses to Steinhoff in consideration for shares in the retail group - to move the group closer to finalising a deal that has been a major headache since the company’s restructuring.

Closing the chapter on litigation claims will enable Steinhoff, the majority owner of Pepkor in Africa and Pepco in Europe, to focus attention on its mountain of debt that exceeds 9 billion euros ($10.64 billion) and continued recovery from the fraud scandal.

The proposal got the required 75% approval from contractual claimants, Steinhoff, which is registered in the Netherlands , said in a brief statement.

Among the contractual claimants the largest individual one is former Steinhoff chairman Christo Wiese, who also held a significant stake in the company. His claim runs to some 58 billion rand ($4.10 billion).

The retailer faces 90 separate legal claims in Germany, South Africa and the Netherlands from those shareholders and claimants.

Votes for the settlement by the other two claimant groups in South Africa, including financial creditors and market purchase claimants, or those who bought Steinhoff shares, began on Monday, with the Dutch thumbs up vote taking place on Wednesday.

The settlement must now go before both South African and Dutch courts for approval.

To avoid lengthy and expensive multi-jurisdiction legal battles, Steinhoff has proposed a 1.43 billion euro ($1.69 billion) offer. But an ongoing liquidation case of Steinhoff brought by former owners of Tekkie Town, a shoe retailer Steinhoff now owns, will derail the settlement process should it succeed, lawyers argued in court this week.

($1 = 0.8457 euros)

$1 = 14.1440 rand Reporting by Nqobile Dludla, editing by Louise Heavens