Steinhoff saga: a legal analysis of the Reserve Bank notice and order of forfeiture

The former CEO of Steinhoff, Markus Jooste. Picture: Armand Hough/ Independent Newspapers.

The former CEO of Steinhoff, Markus Jooste. Picture: Armand Hough/ Independent Newspapers.

Published Apr 28, 2024


By Dhahini Naidu

The recent developments in the Steinhoff scandal, particularly the forfeiture of assets belonging to Markus Jooste’s former “lover”, Berdine Odendaal, have set a significant legal precedent in the fight against corporate fraud in South Africa.

Within the clutter of financial irregularities that came to light following the Steinhoff scandal, the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) and other regulatory bodies have been pivotal in untangling and addressing the malfeasance.

The legal framework used in the Odendaal case, particularly under the Exchange Control Regulations, allowed for the attachment and subsequent forfeiture of assets even in the absence of a criminal conviction.

This is crucial as it highlights the proactive stance taken by the Treasury under these regulations, which prioritise the prevention of asset dissipation over waiting for lengthy criminal trials.

Regulation 22A of the Exchange Regulations plays a critical role. It permits the Treasury to attach assets linked to or suspected of being linked to contraventions of the regulations. This was effectively applied in Odendaal’s case, where assets were seized based on their alleged connection to illicit financial flows from Steinhoff, mediated by Markus Jooste. The significant aspect here is the regulatory provision that allows for such actions without the prerequisite of a conviction, thereby fast-tracking the process of asset recovery.

The forfeited assets, including cash and properties, are transferred to the National Revenue Fund. The action is not just about penalising the wrongdoers but also about redirecting the ill-gotten gains towards the public treasury, which can then be used for national development. This serves a dual purpose: it acts as a deterrent against corporate fraud and aids in the economic restitution to the state, which might have been undermined by such fraudulent activities.

A critical aspect of the discussion is the legal standing in asset forfeiture cases. Odendaal, described as a beneficiary rather than the asset owner, faced significant legal hurdles in challenging the forfeiture.

The actions taken in the Steinhoff case reflect a broader regulatory and legal shift towards greater accountability and transparency in corporate South Africa. The case will probably influence future legal strategies and corporate policies, stressing the importance of ethical management and the severe repercussions of its breach.

The asset forfeiture in the Steinhoff scandal is an important event in South African legal practice, illustrating the vigorous application of laws designed to combat financial crimes. This not only reaffirms the strength of the South African legal system in dealing with complex corporate fraud but also sets a precedent for how similar cases might be handled in the future, potentially altering the landscape of corporate governance and legal recourse in South Africa.

Dhahini Naidu is a director at Fairbridges Wertheim Becker, the oldest full service law firm in Africa.

Dhahini Naidu. Image: Supplied.