News Analysis

Fact vs fiction: How Bell Pottinger and Atul Gupta spun the BBC

02 August 2017 - 14:07 By Kyle Cowan
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Atul Gupta. File photo.
Atul Gupta. File photo.
Image: Robert Tshabalala

It’s the radio interview everyone is talking about.

A gasping Atul Gupta‚ Mr State Capture himself‚ goes on air at the BBC and says he believes all is well back in his land of milk and honey.

He also tells the Beeb the leaked Gupta emails are fake and that he believes disgraced spin doctors Bell Pottinger are a “credible” company.

Atul must be suffering a bit of Dubai sunstroke to believe a word of it.

But the bizarreness doesn’t end there.

James Henderson‚ the CEO of Bell Pottinger‚ the British PR company accused of stirring racial tensions in South Africa‚ told the BBC he believes his team who worked on the Gupta family account had acted with the best of intentions.

This is a far cry from the “apology” Henderson issued recently when he also announced the firing of the Bell Pottinger Gupta account manager.

“At worst we were very naïve with what we got involved in‚” Henderson told BBC Radio 4.

“There was certainly no intention of collaborating with corruption. We were trying to do a good job for a client in managing their reputation and defending them from a number of accusations.”

The evidence‚ however‚ makes this statement appear naïve at best and‚ at worst‚ it’s a downright lie.

So‚ let’s debunk this interview.

CLAIM: The leaked emails are fake.

Atul: “...let’s talk Gupta leaks there is no authenticity of Gupta leaks at all. They are all everyday deception-mongering to drive their own agenda.”

THE EVIDENCE: That’s not true. At least four of South Africa’s top politicians and two more bureaucrats have confirmed the veracity of the emails.

One example is Lakela Kaunda‚ a senior official in President Jacob Zuma’s office. She confirmed to the Sunday Times that she had sent one of the emails in the leaked mother lode that we had identified.

The President’s former private secretary also confirmed her emails which are contained in the leaks. I have personally interviewed at least two other people who have verified a string of emails. One was even able to show them to me in his outbox on his iPad.

CLAIM: We don’t know where the white monopoly capital narrative comes from.

Atul: “I don’t know what is this narrative come from [sic]. White monopoly capital‚ if you go research any revolutionary speech in this country‚ always exist. I don’t know where this term comes from‚ believe me.”

THE EVIDENCE: Correspondence between Bell Pottinger’s Victoria Geoghegan and President Zuma’s son‚ Duduzane‚ heavily involved in Gupta business dealings‚ shows that this statement isn’t true‚ either.

Duduzane writes to Geoghegan‚ and requests assistance “in designing and creating a hard hitting message along the lines of the #EconomicEmancipation or whatever it is”.

He sent this message to Tony Gupta also.

Suddenly‚ we are to believe co-incidentally‚ the term “white monopoly capital” sprang forth from the depths of Twitter and on pro-Gupta‚ pro-Zuma websites.

Andile Mnxgitama of the Black First Land First “organisation“ was reborn with new purpose.

Henderson himself implied that Bell Pottinger were part of it. “There wasn’t an intention to play with race there was an intention to highlight a very real issue.” But it’s the words of Lord Tim Bell‚ former chairman of Bell Pottinger‚ that really nail the coffin shut on this one.

Bell said that during the first meeting with Tony Gupta‚ there was never any discussion of doing any PR for Gupta’s company‚ Oakbay. It was for the Guptas directly.

“The conversation became quite clear that he felt he was stopped from doing things because he was the wrong colour and white people only could raise money in South Africa‚” Bell said.

“That’s why I think he wanted a campaign for economic emancipation because I think he wanted to improve the position of his company and to down the opposition.

“We didn’t talk about what we would do at that first meeting‚ we went away and made a proposal and the proposal suggested that we would do various things including organise people to march to give a demonstration to make a fuss about the fact that they had got the vote in 1994 but they hadn’t got economic power.”

The leaked emails echo this quite clearly. So Atul‚ do you honestly think people will believe the emails are fake‚ as you do? We don’t.

* Cowan is one of the team of Tiso Blackstar journalists who have been reporting on the Gupta emails leak

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