An Open Letter to Pepkor CEO Leon Lourens

Dear Leon.

It is fair to say that a lot of water has made its way to the ocean since that day in a coffee shop in Stellenbosch where you attempted to remove me from the Pepkor Exco.  It was mere weeks after the collapse of Steinhoff. You said I was “too entrepreneurial” and that I “didn’t gel that well with your ‘corporate’ team”. 

The reality is that we are all, in our own way, trying to move on from the wreck of Steinhoff and the events of December 2017.  In this process, there is a role for the truth, accountability, and justice but also for forgiveness.  So let me say this – despite my life’s work having been stolen, I bear no personal grudges against you, against Markus, against the board of directors, against the auditors, against the ratings agencies and everyone who created an environment in which our business could be stolen and then held hostage.  But the fact that I forgive those who are responsible must not be mistaken for the fact that we will not pursue justice.  Everyone responsible must be held accountable for his or her actions. Pepkor has our company and we are entitled to get it back and we will enforce our rights. 

It is not difficult to recall in what a state you and your “corporate” team were after the Steinhoff implosion came to light.  “What about the BVI?” you asked.  Panic stations aplenty.  When the press asked you if any Pepkor executives had been shielded from Steinhoff losses, you said “no”.  Then miraculously and mysteriously a “historic” guarantee appeared and shareholders had to foot a R500-million bill for the Steinhoff losses of those BVI executives including you.  A bail-out by every definition.  Your chairman, Jayendra Naidoo, promised an enquiry through your attorneys.  The outcome of this enquiry never saw the light of day.  The moral of the story?  When you are “entrepreneurial” you lose your own money and you have to bail yourself out.  But at least you can still defend yourself.

Unfortunately, there are those that can’t defend themselves and they are some of the most vulnerable people, including pensioners and government employees, who partly suffered their losses, according to the press, through the investment of your chairman Jayendra Naidoo and his Lancaster investment vehicles in Steinhoff and in its subsidiary Pepkor. According to the press, Mr Naidoo allegedly also scored a R120-million fee windfall for his investment in Steinhoff.

You recalled a BVI member from retirement to take my place as the head of Pepkor’s property division.  You used two BVI members to replace Bernard as the CEO of both Speciality and Tekkie Town – two bailed-out men supposedly doing the job of one.

So on Wednesday, after Judge Erasmus handed down his reasons as to why he deemed it fit to protect our rights and why he interdicted Steinhoff and Pepkor, you came out firing.  You criticized the Judge, pointed fingers and made insinuations about my history with, and my alleged defense of, Markus Jooste. This is a spectacular attempt to obfuscate from the real issues. Steinhoff, led by Markus Jooste and its board of directors pursued and concluded the Tekkie Town transaction.  You also know too well that the transaction was done on the explicit basis that we would be grouped by Steinhoff with Speciality. Judge Erasmus understood and explained that clearly.

In any case, I have said from the start that I am not God and that I am not a judge.  Markus must have his day in court and so must everyone else who played a role in this landscape-altering saga.  Let them be charged, let them be prosecuted, let them defend themselves and when found guilty, let them be sentenced.  To facilitate those guilty parties being held accountable, Steinhoff must enter the proverbial playing field.  Your parent company, who you yourself are suing, must release the PWC forensic report in full and cooperate entirely with the authorities.

If you have nothing to hide, let the law run its course and assist the authorities in seeing to this.  As for you and me, let’s look in the mirror each morning and ask ourselves what our reaction was to the Steinhoff events. 

Happy trading

Braam

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