/ 12 April 2017

Bell Pottinger cuts ties with Gupta-owned Oakbay

Indian businessmen
Indian businessmen

British public relations firm Bell Pottinger ended its ties with Oakbay, the holding company owned by the controversial Gupta family, according to a Financial Times report released on Wednesday.

Oakbay agreed to the termination of the contract just over a week ago. 

Bell Pottinger said it made the decision to cut ties with Oakbay because it was 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”. 

President Jacob Zuma fired former finance minister Pravin Gordhan earlier this month, sparking nationwide protests last Friday organised by civil society, trade unions and religious leaders calling for him to step down. Opposition parties, including the Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Front, protested against Zuma on Wednesday.

Public pressure against the British firm increased shortly after the reshuffle and the company is believed to have been “helping the Guptas change the narrative that they had captured President Jacob Zuma for corrupt purposes”, according to News24.

The family has consistently denied the allegations against them. 

The Sunday Times said in a report last month that Bell Pottinger intended to depict the detractors of the Guptas as supporters of “white monopoly capital”. 

“We have never embarked on any of these smearing, racist and politically abusive activities we have been accused of,” Bell Pottinger said.

After he was fired, Gordhan said there had been a campaign “to malign me personally but, more importantly, the treasury and to pass around disinformation of all sorts”, the Financial Times report stated. 

Bell Pottinger has lost two major South Africa-linked clients over their concerns about its contract with Oakbay. Richemont, owned by prominent businessperson Johann Rupert,  ended a two-decade relationship with the company.

“I am aware of the attacks, as well as to the identity of the organisers behind the fake accounts. They are experts at disinformation,” Rupert said.

Investec severed its ties with the firm last year. 

Oakbay has denied being behind a social media campaign targeting Rupert and Gordhan.