Steinhoff says probes accounting irregularities, CEO resigns

(Reuters) - Steinhoff International, Europe’s second-largest furniture retailer by sales said it had launched an investigation into accounting irregularities and that its chief executive had resigned on Tuesday.

CEO Markus Jooste resigned with immediate effect after the discovery of new information that has prompted the German-listed company’s supervisory, or non-executive, board to ask consultants PwC to perform an “independent investigation”.

Reuters reported last month that Steinhoff International did not tell investors about almost $1 billion in transactions with a related company despite laws that some experts believe require it to do so.

South Africa-headquartered, Dutch-registered Steinhoff has also been under investigation for suspected accounting irregularities by the state prosecutor in Oldenburg, Germany since 2015. Steinhoff has said that was a tax case relating to whether revenues were booked correctly, and taxable profit correctly declared.

It is unclear what accounting irregularities the company was referring to in its statement on Tuesday. A spokesman declined further comment. Attempts to contact Jooste were not immediately successful.

The company also dropped a Jan. 31, 2018 deadline for publishing its audited 2017 consolidated financial statements, saying it would only do so “when it is in a position to do so”.

It will also “determine whether any prior years’ financial statements will need to be restated”, its statement said.

Supervisory board Chairman Christo Wiese will step in as executive chairman on an interim basis. Steinhoff said Wiese would “embark on a detailed review of all aspects of the company’s business with a view to maximizing shareholder value”.

The company has grown aggressively by acquisition in recent years. A spokesman declined to say if Steinhoff was mulling asset sales but the company said, “Steinhoff has a number of high quality profitable businesses around the world.”

Jooste has been the chief executive officer of Steinhoff since 1998, having joined the group in 1988. He is one of South Africa’s highest profile executives.

Reporting by Kanishka Singh; editing by Mark Heinrich and Diane Craft