Steinhoff's Asia Pacific unit seeks to distance itself from crisis of parent

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SYDNEY (Reuters) – Steinhoff International’s Asia Pacific unit stressed its business was sound and sought to distance itself from its troubled parent on Thursday, even as the furniture firm appointed local lawyers and financial advisers as a prudent measure.

South African-headquartered Steinhoff International <SNHJ.J><SNHG.DE> has lost more than $12 billion in market value in recent weeks, hit by an accounting scandal that caused its banks to cut credit lines and forced the exit of its chief executive.

With 10,000 employees in Australia and New Zealand, the unit operates well known local furniture retailers, including Freedom and Fantastic Furniture.

Michael Ford, chief executive of Steinhoff Asia Pacific, said the move to hire law firm Minter Ellison and strategic adviser Ferrier Hodgson was a “prudent step” in response to the “significant uncertainty” facing its parent company.

“For all our brands in the Steinhoff Asia Pacific group,… it is business as usual,” Ford said in an emailed statement. “Steinhoff Asia Pacific is not party to any of the banking facilities of its parent.”

Ford said total system sales, including franchisee sales, were up 3.1 percent for the 12 months ended Nov. 20, compared to a year ago. Sales for the month of December so far were up 12.4 percent, he added.

“We are now in our peak trading period and have had some exceptionally strong trading across our retail brands,” Ford said. “These are healthy sales figures for a business group that is clearly performing well.’

(Reporting by Paulina Duran; Editing by Jane Wardell and Edwina Gibbs)

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