German prosecutors yesterday applied for an arrest warrant against disgraced SA businessman Markus Jooste after he failed to show up for his criminal trial in Germany.

Jooste is linked to SA’s biggest fraud in which the Steinhoff share lost over R200bn in value after auditors refused to sign off the accounts. 

Business Day reports that it was to be Jooste’s first court appearance and he has not yet been charged in SA for his role in the fraud which affected hundreds of thousands of pensioners and institutional investors in SA and Europe. The prosecutor applied for the suspension of proceedings and the issuance of an arrest warrant.

The court suspended the case and will decide whether to issue a warrant.

If an arrest warrant were to be issued, Jooste could be extradited. While Jooste evades justice, Steinhoff debt exceeds it assets by €3.5bn and has been battling to survive with debtors, who are owed €10.2bn likely to take over the company in a court-approved insolvency process, leaving shareholders with nothing.

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Jooste’s defence team at an Oldenburg court contended that he couldn't leave SA because of a 2017 agreement with the Department of Justice. They also argued that he was unable to travel due to passport problems and he ran the risk of being arrested if he tried to leave SA.

However, Fin24 reports that Jooste has been accused of attempting to use the so-called Stalingrad defence to prolong litigation for as long as possible.

Stern magazine reported that public prosecutor Frank Lohmann said Jooste posed a flight risk and seemingly wanted to avoid the legal process in Germany. The prosecutors yesterday rubbished Jooste's defence team, saying he handed over his passport to his SA lawyers, and that it hadn't been confiscated. Given Jooste's absence, the prosecutors, his defence team and the German judges will now decide behind closed doors how to proceed.

A spokesperson for the German Federal Ministry of Justice previously told Netwerk24 that the accused must be present for hearings in Germany.

‘There are only a few exceptions to this principle, mainly where crimes of minor importance are concerned or in appeal proceedings.’

The Fin24 report notes that the former Steinhoff CEO is still facing criminal charges in Germany related to alleged accounting manipulation aimed at boosting the company’s financials.

However, it has now emerged that of the original six charges against him, four have fallen away due to the time that has passed since the alleged offences.

Two Germans, Dirk Schreiber and Siegmar Schmidt, both former MDs of Steinhoff Europe Group Services and Tau Enterprises, are expected to go on trial next month.

Full Fin24 report