Steinhoff International Holdings NV is in talks with the providers of director liability insurance policies about help settling legal claims resulting from a 2017 accounting crisis that took the South African retailer to the brink of collapse.
An agreement with the insurers would be of similar magnitude to what the company concluded with Deloitte & Touche LLP two weeks ago, Chief Financial Officer Theodore de Klerk said in an interview Monday. Deloitte, the auditors at the time of the scandal, offered about 70 million euros ($84 million).
The retailer is pressing hard to reach a deal with claimants such as former Chairman Christo Wiese and settle various class-action lawsuits brought by investors after the stock plunged. De Klerk believes it’s “more likely than not” that the global settlement will be successful and those with claims may get payouts late this year or in early 2022.
Companies buy directors and officers liability insurance to protect senior staff from personal losses if they are sued as a result of work done as employees. It can also cover the legal fees and other costs the organization may incur as a result of such a suit.
“People have lost a lot of money and we can never give them back what they’ve lost,” De Klerk said. “It’s an unhappy situation all round. But we believe the settlement is the best solution for something so unfortunate.”
Once a deal is finalized, Steinhoff needs to focus on paying debt of about 10 billion euros.
The company is in meetings about a share sale of 25% to 30% of European discount retailer Pepco Group after it was postponed last year, and expects the disposal to be completed by end-June, the CFO said. An initial public offering for at least 70% of Fantastic Furniture, an Australian business, is planned by year-end.
Mattress Firm, the U.S. business that’s seen a rise in sales from home improvement during the pandemic, may be another disposal candidate, De Klerk said. Steinhoff will also look to sell the rest of European furniture chain Conforama, its Swiss Lipo unit and South African property investments, he said.
Steinhoff is using shares in its biggest asset, Africa’s largest clothing chain Pepkor Holdings Ltd., to help pay for the proposed global settlement, which in turn would reduce its stake to just over 50% from 68%.
“Once the settlement is in place, hopefully toward end of this year, then we can sit and judge, do we stay above 50% or does it probably make sense to sell down to 35%,” De Klerk said.
–With assistance from Manus Cranny and Yousef Gamal El-Din.
Photograph: A company sign stands inside the Steinhoff International Holdings NV company headquarters in Stellenbosch, South Africa, on Monday, May 14, 2018. Photo credit: Dwayne Senior/Bloomberg.
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