Ben la Grange believes Steinhoff was inflating its profits for years

The former Steinhoff chief financial officer says he only became aware of the fraud at the company on the weekend of 2 December 2017.

Former Steinhoff CFO Ben la Grange with his senior counsel, John Dickerson, appear in Parliament on 29 August 2018. Picture: Gaye Davis/EWN

CAPE TOWN - Former Steinhoff chief financial officer Ben la Grange says he believes his former CEO Markus Jooste shared limited information with him.

He says he only became aware of the fraud at the company on the weekend of 2 December 2017, when he was called to a meeting of the audit committee and shown a report by the company’s auditors.

La Grange’s been grilled by Members of Parliament (MPs) over what he knew and when. He’s insisted he did no wrong.

La Grange says what he read in the report by Steinhoff auditors Deloitte took him by surprise.

“I was shocked at what was in the report, and I then told them I can’t comment, we have to wait for the CEO who was then on a plane to arrive back in South Africa.”

But Jooste never pitched for a meeting of the audit committee.

“Then I knew something’s wrong.”

La Grange says he believes the company was inflating its profits for years, but by small amounts that escaped detection.

“Looking back if Markus Jooste misused or misled me, I’m not a lawyer so I don’t want to venture into dangerous terrain, but I do believe there was a limited sharing of information from Mr Jooste to myself.

Jooste is set to appear on Wednesday, 5 September.

‘I DID NOTHING WRONG’

La Grange has faced a cross-party barrage of questions about what he knew about wrongdoing at Steinhoff and when with his integrity coming under fire.

La Grange’s told the hearing at Parliament that he was unaware of the accounting irregularities that led to the company’s share price collapse until December when Jooste quit.

He says he stepped down in January to protect the company, which was facing the fury of investors.

La Grange has been grilled by MPs across all parties, with Trade and Industry Committee chair Joan Fubbs questioning gaps in his submission.

“When did you yourself become aware there was a strange smell in Steinhoff?”

Democratic Alliance MP Alf Lees found it difficult to accept La Grange claiming his job was simply to consolidate group financial statements.

“Your position as CFO was the one on which Investors in this group probably relied more than anything else.”

Finance committee chair Yunus Carrim said: “It’s hard to believe the way you’re presenting it, that you were almost oblivious to what was happening.”

La Grange’s insisting he did nothing wrong.

(Edited by Zamangwane Shange)