The acquisitive plans of South African retail king Christo Wiese took a hit Wednesday when Steinhoff, the retail conglomerate he chairs, said its chief executive Markus Jooste had resigned amid accounting irregularities. It’s a major reversal of fortune for Wiese, 76, and Steinhoff, which has recently expanded its business across Europe and America.
Steinhoff shares have fallen more than 60% in a day, erasing $2.3 billion from Wiese’s fortune. He’s now worth an estimated $1.49 billion, according to Forbes Real Time Rankings. That’s down more than $4 billion from March 2017, when he was worth $5.6 billion.
Going forward, Steinhoff has tapped PwC to investigate the accounting irregularities, and with Steinhoff CEO Markus Jooste out, Wiese will temporarily become Steinhoff’s executive chairman.
Since 2016, furniture and home good retailer Steinhoff has done more than half a dozen deals, including the acquisition of US-based Mattress Firm. Steinhoff is a part of Wiese’s discount retail empire, which the South African has been building since the 1970s, as a 2016 profile of Wiese in Forbes magazine details.
Wiese first joined the ranks of the Forbes Billionaires in 2011, with a net worth of $1.6 billion. His fortune rose as high as $6.3 billion in March 2015. In December 2015, Wiese moved Steinhoff’s listing from the Johannesburg Stock Exchange to the Frankfurt Stock Exchange to concentrate more on the European market.
The retail king made headlines in 2009 after U.K. customs officials detained him at London City Airport with two suitcases filled with nearly $1 million in cash. They seized it, suspecting illicit origins. The British and South African press picked up on the incident – apparently suspecting Wiese had been nabbed for money laundering – and were further emboldened by Wiese’s stubbornness in fighting for the funds’ return and his insistence that the amount was “insignificant.” (The Daily Mail’s gleeful headline: “It’s Just Peanuts to Me.”) The government ended up returning the money to Wiese – interest attached. Wiese wouldn’t talk publicly about it.
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