PR firm Bell Pottinger has finally collapsed into administration with lots of debts outstanding, including to founder Lord Bell who sold his stake in the business back to the company in a £2.5m deal when he resigned last year.
Bell (below) says: “They owe me £300,000 which they won’t be able to pay. The payments paid to me are spread over a long period of time and including one in the next four months. I won’t see it.”
Bell Pottinger hit the buffers when its leading role in a scandal involving the controversial Gupta brothers and their company Oakbay Capital was revealed by South African opposition politicians. The Guptas are said to be unhealthily close to South African president Jacob Zuma. The Bell Pottinger campaign, an attack on so-called “white monopoly capitalists” targeted some Bell Pottinger clients, among others.
Most of its clients, in the UK as well as South Africa, left when the scandal broke. The Guardian reckons the company owes its bankers Barclays £5m. Bell Pottinger operations in the Middle East and Asia are attempting to continue, under different names.
It’s all a mother and father of a mess and, some will say, just desserts for Bell Pottinger which was noted for pushing boundaries, even by the standards of the political PR world where such boundaries are notoriously elastic.
Bell is now running his own business – Sans Frontieres – which also specialises in political work. Most such debacles would end most people’s careers although one should note that Bell says that, although he made the first contact with the Guptas, he warned against handling the account and resigned, in part, because of it.
But Bell has the knack of getting out of tight spots. And he will still have his well-placed supporters.
Even enemies may have some sneaking regard for a man who once observed that “all bankers are complete criminals.”