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Steinhoff ex-CEO had expected arrest before being found near death, police say

By Esa Alexander and Bhargav Acharya

HERMANUS, South Africa (Reuters) - The former chief executive of South African multinational retailer Steinhoff had been notified of an arrest warrant against him shortly before he was found dead in what local media called a suicide, the elite Hawks police unit said on Friday.

Warrants were issued for Markus Jooste, 63, and his former colleague Stephanus Grobler on Wednesday, the same day Jooste was handed a hefty fine for accounting fraud by the Financial Sector Conduct Authority (FSCA), the Hawks said.

Jooste was found, reportedly with a gunshot wound, on a rugged stretch of coastline at Kwaaiwater, a suburb of the coastal town of Hermanus near Cape Town and later died on the way to the hospital. Local media said he had shot himself.

Reuters could not reach Jooste's family while Steinhoff did not respond to requests for comment.

Once instrumental in transforming Steinhoff from a small Johannesburg furniture outfit into a multinational retailer, Jooste was fined for publishing false and misleading financial statements and reports from 2014 to 2017.

Jooste, who left the firm in 2017, had been expected to hand himself in with Grobler and appear for a court hearing in the capital Pretoria on Friday, the police said.

"The allegations include, amongst others, fraud, a pattern of racketeering activities and contravention of Financial Markets Act against Steinhoff International Holdings," they said, adding that Grobler had appeared in court.

The FSCA said Jooste's death would have no bearing on its investigation into Steinhoff, or on the 475 million rand ($25.0 million) penalty imposed on him.

"The FSCA is legally entitled to recover the penalty from the estate of the late Mr Jooste," it said.

Steinhoff, the majority owner of South African and European discount retailers Pepkor and Pepco, has suffered heavy losses and a slew of lawsuits since Jooste left.

($1 = 18.9707 rand)

(Reporting by Esa Alexander in Hermanus and Bhargav Acharya in Johannesburg; Editing by Nellie Peyton and Kevin Liffey)