United Kingdom public relations agency Bell Pottinger cut ties with Gupta-owned Oakbay last week, the Financial Times reported on Wednesday.
Oakbay “agreed the termination of the contract just over a week ago,” the UK-based business newspaper reported.
Bell Pottinger told FT that it was ending the relationship after becoming “the target of a politically driven smear campaign in South Africa over the last few months, with a number of totally false and damaging accusations levelled at it”.
Bell Pottinger CEO James Henderson told the FT that the move “is totally linked to the attacks on us”.
It follows protests last week in all the major cities of South Africa, in which placards had the image of Bell Pottinger partner Victoria Geoghegan, with the words: “More corruption, more misery, more poverty, more crime. Thank you Victoria Geoghegan.”
London protestors had planned to picket outside Bell Pottinger on Saturday regarding their involvement in South Africa, according to a tweet.
This follows allegations that the public relations agency overstepped its mark in helping the Guptas change the narrative that they had captured President Jacob Zuma for corrupt purposes.
The pressure against Bell Pottinger heightened after Zuma removed Pravin Gordhan as finance minister on 30 March.
State capture allegations
Allegations of state capture gained steam after former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas claimed that the Guptas offered him R600m and R600 000 in cash to accept the position of finance minister ahead of Nhlanhla Nene’s removal.
The allegation of state capture is that the Guptas used their close relationship with Zuma to secure tenders with state-owned entities. Their company, Oakbay Investments, has interests in mining, IT, and media (ANN7 and The New Age) among others. The Guptas and Zuma’s son Duduzane own Tegeta, which bought Optimum Coal Mine from Glencore last year.
South Africa’s top five banks blacklisted the Guptas’ bank accounts and the Public Protector fingered them in the report, State of Capture.
Recently, a document that appears to have been compiled with the assistance of former Bell Pottinger employees, alleges that the firm played a major role in portraying the Gupta family as victims of a conspiracy that involves “white monopoly capital”, a report in the Sunday Times revealed in March.
It reveals how the Guptas and President Jacob Zuma called on the UK-based public relations group Bell Pottinger to win back support following the public outcry with the sacking of former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene.
The Sunday Times said the report showed there had been a “heavy focus upon use of social media”, including fake bloggers, commentators and Twitter users in an attempt to sway public opinion – claims Bell Pottinger categorically denies.
In 2016, Johann Rupert cut ties with Bell Pottinger – who had worked with Richemont for 18 years – because he claimed they began attacking him as part of their strategy to help the Guptas, Huffington Post reported.
“While they were working for us, they started working for the Guptas,” he told shareholders at Remgro’s AGM in 2016. “The very same person … their total task was to deflect attention [from allegations around state capture and the Guptas’ involvement] … guess who was the target? A client of theirs: me!”
FT said Investec also cut ties with Bell Pottinger last year.
In September 2016, Fin24 reported how a Bell Pottinger employee sent it a confidential cabinet document to publish as a scoop weeks before it was announced by Minerals Minister Mosebenzi Zwane and which sought to start an inquiry into why the banks shut down the Guptas’ bank accounts.[Source: News24]