September 18, 2017 / 10:15 AM / in a month

Steinhoff says former JV partner takes dispute to Dutch court

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - A former joint venture partner of Steinhoff SHFF.J (SNHG.DE) has asked a Dutch court to order an investigation into the South African group’s annual accounts, which Steinhoff said it expected to be dismissed.

“The annual accounts of Steinhoff International were established according to all applicable rules and to our best knowledge,” Steinhoff’s Chief Executive Markus Jooste said in statement on Monday.

The move comes two days before the spin-off of Steinhoff’s Africa-focused chains and after German prosecutors said last month they were investigating current and former Steinhoff executives for suspected accounting fraud.

News of the investigation wiped more than $2 billion off the value of Steinhoff’s shares, which are listed in Germany and Johannesburg.

Steinhoff, Europe’s second-largest furniture retailer after IKEA, said at the time that some allegations of fraud stemmed from an unidentified former joint venture partner, with which its subsidiaries were embroiled in litigation.

On Monday, it said the petition filed with the Enterprise Chamber of the Amsterdam Court of Appeal by OM Handels GmbH and MW Handels GmbH (OM & MW), owned by the former joint venture partner, related to the consolidation of a joint investment in Steinhoff’s books.

“Steinhoff has appointed legal and external audit firms in Germany to investigate the matter independently. They have concluded that no evidence exists of any wrongdoing,” Steinhoff said.

It did not provide further details on what the joint investment was, when it was made, or what the former partner’s allegations are. It also did not name the former partner.

CEO Jooste also said in the statement that allegations brought against Steinhoff by OM & MW were “unfounded” and that its 2016 annual accounts were correct.

The Enterprise Chamber in Amsterdam has scheduled a closed-door hearing on the matter for Thursday.

Reporting by Maria Sheahan; Editing by Mark Potter

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