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Suspended Steinhoff CFO helps authorities with fraud investigation

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - The suspended former chief financial officer of Steinhoff is helping authorities with investigations into $7 billion-plus accounting fraud at the South African retailer, he said on Thursday.

Ben la Grange is one of eight individuals named in an investigation of what an independent report by auditor PwC said was a complex scheme in which intercompany deals worth 6.4 billion euros ($7.3 billion) were wrongly recorded as external income to prop up profits and hide costs in underperforming subsidiaries.

"I am cooperating with all government agencies," said La Grange, who was suspended last August but remains on the Steinhoff payroll as a consultant.

Former CEO Markus Jooste, who could not reached for comment through his lawyer, is among the eight executives named in the 15,000-word report conducted by PwC over the past 15 months. Jooste has previously denied any wrongdoing.

Steinhoff is under investigation by South Africa police, the Financial Sector Conduct Authority capital markets watchdog and exchange operator JSE.

The state prosecutor in Oldenburg, Germany, has also been investigating the company for suspected accounting irregularities since 2015.

Steinhoff first disclosed the hole in its accounts in December 2017, shocking investors who had backed its reinvention from a small South African business to a multinational retailer at the vanguard of the European discount furniture retail industry.

($1 = 0.8803 euros)

(Reporting by Tiisetso Motsoeneng; Editing by David Goodman)

2019-03-20 17:42:13

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