Heads roll at UK firm over Gupta PR account

07 July 2017 - 06:19 By TimesLIVE
A logo of Oakbay Investments is seen at the entrance of their offices in Sandton, outside Johannesburg, South Africa April 13, 2016.
A logo of Oakbay Investments is seen at the entrance of their offices in Sandton, outside Johannesburg, South Africa April 13, 2016.
Image: SIPHIWE SIBEKO

UK public relations firm Bell Pottinger has fired a lead partner, and suspended another partner and two employees, in the wake of accusations that it contributed to campaigns to stir up racial division in South Africa through its work for Gupta-owned Oakbay Capital.

This follows an inquiry into the allegations by International law firm Herbert Smith Freehills, which was called in by Bell Pottinger to review its Oakbay account.

Bell Pottinger announced three months ago that it would stop working for Oakbay Capital following a competitive bid process.

"When we terminated our work with Oakbay, we said we were doing so because of increasingly strong social media attacks on our staff and our business from South Africa, and that we regarded the criticisms of what our team had done as unfair.

"These attacks on our staff were clearly the result of strong and sincere anger. Most seriously, it was said that we had aided campaigns to stir up racial division in South Africa. Therefore, we called in law firm Herbert Smith Freehills to review the account.

"That investigation will be completed in the next few weeks. We intend to publish the findings of that report and take appropriate action," Bell Pottinger CE James Henderson said yesterday.

"Much of what has been alleged about our work is, we believe, not true, but enough of it is to be of deep concern," he added.

"There has been a social media campaign that highlights the issue of economic emancipation in a way that we, having seen it, consider to be inappropriate and offensive.

"At various points throughout the tenure of the Oakbay account senior management have been misled about what has been done.

"For it to be done in South Africa is a matter of profound regret and in no way reflects the values of Bell Pottinger.

"Though the inquiry is ongoing, we have dismissed the lead partner involved, and suspended another partner and two employees so that we can determine their precise role in what took place.

"As soon as we were made aware that we had been misled and that work was being done which goes against the very core of our ethical policies we acted immediately," Henderson stated.

X