Bell Pottinger fires lead partner and suspends three other employees over Gupta account

File photo of Ajay and Atul Gupta.
File photo of Ajay and Atul Gupta.  Image: MARTIN RHODES

UK PR group Bell Pottinger has dismissed the lead partner involved and suspended another partner and two employees over accusations that it supported and aided campaigns to stir up racial division in South Africa through its work for Gupta-owned Oakbay Capital.

This follows an ongoing inquiry into the allegations by International law firm Herbert Smith Freehills LLP‚ which was called in by the group to review the Oakbay account and the work done on it.

Bell Pottinger announced three months ago that it had decided to cease work for Oakbay Capital after working for them for a year‚ 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‚ and criticisms of‚ our staff continued and were clearly the result of strong and sincere anger. Most seriously‚ it was said that we had supported or aided campaigns to stir up racial division in South Africa. Therefore‚ we called in the leading independent international law firm‚ Herbert Smith Freehills LLP‚ to review the account and the work done on it. That investigation is still continuing and will be completed in the next few weeks. We intend to publish the findings of that report and take appropriate action‚” Bell Pottinger chief executive James Henderson said on Thursday.

However‚ he said the group had already been shown interim evidence which had dismayed it.

“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 now 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‚ a country which has become an international beacon of hope for its progress towards racial reconciliation‚ 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.

“At Bell Pottinger – a proudly diverse and international team – we have good‚ decent people who will be as angered by what has been discovered as we are.

“We wish to issue a full‚ unequivocal and absolute apology to anyone impacted. These activities should never have been undertaken. We are deeply sorry that this happened‚” Henderson added.



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