Hawks accuse Steinhoff of 'malicious compliance'

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Steinhoff Group offices in Wynberg, north east of Johannesburg.

Steinhoff Group offices in Wynberg, north east of Johannesburg.

CAPE TOWN - A senior member of the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, more commonly known as the Hawks, on Wednesday accused multinational retailer Steinhoff of "malicious compliance" of the law.

The company was also accused of misleading Parliament in relation to the reporting of its fraudulent activities.

The global retailer has been in the spotlight after allegations of accounting irregularities emerged late last year.

READ: MPs give Steinhoff&39;s Jooste ultimatum

In a briefing to four parliamentary committees, the head of the Hawks&39; specialised commercial crimes unit, Major-General Alfred Khana, contradicted Steinhoff officials.

Steinhoff executives had in January told members of Parliament (MPs) they had reported former chief executive officer (CEO) Markus Jooste to the Hawks for investigation and possible prosecution.

"To make it utterly clear, Steinhoff did not report this matter to the Hawks. Steinhoff gave us a section 34 report," Khana told MPs, referring to section 34 of the Prevention and Combatting of Corrupt Activities act, which compels people in positions of authority who suspect wrongdoing to report the matter to authorities. 

The report, Khana said, was "empty" and did not point specifically to anyone suspected of wrongdoing.

On 31 January, Steinhoff acting chairperson Heather Sonn told MPs that the chairperson of the company&39;s audit committee, Steve Booysen, had reported Jooste to the Hawks.

WATCH: Two cases of insider trading registered in Steinhoff scandal

"On the eve of the first appearance of Steinhoff before this committee, they dropped this report at our offices. When I saw the report, I was livid. This is malicious compliance in the utmost," Khana told MPs, basically inferring that Steinhoff lied to MPs.

Steinhoff attorney Robert Driman denied the company was guilty of malicious compliance.

"If the impression was created that it was a cynical complaint, then I think it is the wrong impression," he said.

"I think there had been three or four meetings with the investigating team and senior officials of Steinhoff. I&39;ve attended one of those meetings...and when it was drawn to the company&39;s attention that the general felt the report was made maliciously, the company wrote to him, invited him to be in touch..."

But MPs did not buy this, accusing Steinhoff of "delaying tactics", with one MP proclaiming "we are being played".

READ: Steinhoff again postpones publishing audited financials

The four parliamentary committees, namely finance, public accounts, trade and industry, and public service and administration, urged Steinhoff to cooperate with the Hawks.

Meanwhile, auditor PriceWaterhouseCooper said it hoped to finalise a forensic probe into Steinhoff International by the end of 2018.

The firm told a parliamentary committee it was working with a team of people across seven countries.

Steinhoff executives have indicated they are attending a strategic meeting in Britain to discuss the group&39;s restructuring and liquidity.

Additional reporting eNCA