Bell Pottinger scandal worsens as lawyers join in

Chief executive, Bell Pottinger
Bell Pottinger CEO James Henderson (left) has resigned in the wake of the Gupta scandal – the UK PR firm has been accused on fomenting a fake news scandal to bolster the fortunes of the Indian Gupta family in South Africa – and the PRCA trade body has already upheld a complaint against the firm, which Bell Pottinger is appealing.

A report into the affair from law firm Herbert Smith Freehills is due to be published today although one imagines that will be the source of some contention too.

In the meantime it’s worth taking a look at this and some other stories published by Times Media Group in South Africa. Among the horrifying accusations is one that Bell Pottinger recruited an army of bogus Twitter and Facebook “supporters,” based in India and recruited on the so-called “dark web,” haunt of criminals and worse.

It’s not just life-threatening for Bell Pottinger (which is still mostly owned by Henderson and his wife) but the last thing the likes of Facebook and Twitter need: the revelation, if such it be, that there’s a vast criminal underworld out there cheerfully exploiting their products, sometimes for ostensibly respectable companies.


Here are some bits from the Herbert Smith report, from the Guardian.

“Certain material that we have seen that was created for the campaign was negative or targeted towards wealthy white South African individuals or corporates and/or was potentially racially divisive and/or potentially offensive and was created in breach of relevant ethical principles,” said the law firm.

The firm is accused of stirring up anger about “white monopoly capital” and the “economic apartheid” to draw attention away from the controversial Guptas, who run a media to mining conglomerate and have been accused of benefiting financially from their close links to the South African president, Jacob Zuma. Both have previously denied such a relationship.

The report also found the PR firm employed other unethical tactics as part of the campaign.

“We have seen evidence that the Bell Pottinger account team used other tactics in relation to the economic emancipation campaign which arguably breached the relevant ethical principles‚ including taking steps which might mislead or undermine journalists who were asking questions in relation to the campaign,” the report says.

So is that it? Unlikely. Wonder when Lord Bell, who’s tried to distance himself from the affair and resigned from Bell Pottinger last year, will re-enter the fray?

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