(Reuters and CNBC Africa) – A Dutch shareholder group has given notice that it plans to file a class action lawsuit against Barclays Plc, Commerzbank AG and Absa Bank Ltd over their roles in a 2015 share sale by South African retailer Steinhoff International, the Financial Times reported on Wednesday.


As required by Dutch law, shareholder group VEB gave the three banks two weeks’ notice of its plan to file the lawsuit and invited them to open talks on “an amicable settlement”, the report said.

VEB maintained the banks are “liable for damages incurred by Steinhoff shareholders” because of their roles in the listing of Steinhoff on the Frankfurt and Johannesburg stock exchanges as part of its creation of a holding company in Amsterdam, the FT said.

Steinhoff declined to comment. VEB, Barclays and Commerzbank, were not immediately available for comment outside regular business hours whilst Absa in an emailed statement said:

We have noted press reports that VEB (the Dutch Investors Association) has indicated that it has notified Absa and two other banks that it is holding them liable for losses incurred by Steinhoff shareholders. Absa has not received any notification from VEB in this regard. For clarity, Absa Bank Ltd was the JSE Transaction Sponsor to Steinhoff International Holdings Limited (“Steinhoff South Africa”). Absa’s role was limited to ensuring that the JSE’s listing rules were complied with by Steinhoff SA, the relevant JSE-listed company. Absa’s mandate specifically did not include the compilation or review of the financial statements of Steinhoff South Africa or any other Steinhoff company.        

Steinhoff, which has more than 40 retail brands including France’s Conforama and British chain Poundland, faced a fight for survival after admitting accounting irregularities in December, wiping about 85 percent off its market value and triggering a liquidity crisis.

Reporting by Sangameswaran S in Bengaluru; Editing by Adrian Croft