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SA billionaire Johann Rupert reveals: ‘How Gupta PR firm Bell Pottinger burnt me, their client!’

bell_pottingerWhile there are undoubtedly some public relations practitioners who subscribe to doing business in an ethical way, this is evidently not the case for London-based Bell Pottinger. South African billionaire Johann Rupert, chairman of Swiss luxury brands group Richemont, has suggested that Bell Pottinger has been actively fabricating stories around him after being lured to do work for the infamous Gupta family at the centre of state capture allegations. Bell Pottinger has denied any wrongdoing, according to Business Day – which reported Rupert’s frustrations with the public relations company. Although Rupert is aggrieved, one can’t help wondering what Bell Pottinger did for him and his companies while they were on his payroll. An investigation by The Sunday Times and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism revealed that Bell Pottinger was hired by the Pentagon in Washington to coordinate a covert propaganda campaign to boost America’s profile in Iraq in 2003. The work entailed creating fake news. Bell Pottinger’s former chairman Lord Tim Bell confirmed to the Sunday Times that the firm was paid $540m for five contracts with the US government between 2007 and 2011. He said the firm reported to the Pentagon, the CIA and the National Security Council while working on the account. It seems hard to imagine that Bell Pottinger would categorise clients according to different sets of rules for applying their brand spin in the market. The key take-away from Rupert’s comments at the Remgro annual meeting: treat all information with suspicion from anyone with even a hint of association with Bell Pottinger. – Jackie Cameron 

Staff writer

Johann Rupert, chairman of R113bn investment giant Remgro, has fingered UK-based spin doctors Bell Pottinger — on contract to the Gupta family-controlled Oakbay Investments — for an ongoing campaign to link the business tycoon to state capture activities, reports Business Day.

Johann Rupert, founder and chairman of Cie. Financiere Richemont SA. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
Johann Rupert, founder and chairman of Cie. Financiere Richemont SA. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Respected financial journalist Marc Hasenfuss says Rupert told the Remgro annual meeting on Thursday that Richemont, the luxury brands business controlled by the Rupert family, had until recently contracted Bell Pottinger to work on its financial relationships. The contract had lasted 15 to 18 years, Rupert estimated.

The media outlet quotes Rupert: “And whilst they were still in the employment of Richemont they started working for the Guptas. The very same person…. Their total task was to deflect attention [from state capture allegations involving the Guptas]. Guess who they took as a target? A client of theirs… Me!”

Bell Pottinger’s contract with Richemont has since been terminated, says Business Day.

Rupert said Remgro’s media involvement had always been at the behest of other shareholders or management. The group’s media interests comprised a significant minority stake in e-Media (the owner of e.tv, eNCA and OpenView HD and controlled by Hosken Consolidated Investments) (HCI) controlled e-Media (the owner of e.tv, ENCA and OpenView HD), an indirect minority stake in niche radio broadcaster Kagiso Media and a small legacy stake in publishing group Caxton, notes Hasenfuss.

“The late Eric Molobi got us invested in media (via Kagiso). I have never been to the offices of e.tv…I don’t even know where Caxton is. Terry (Moolman) runs that,” Rupert said, according to businesslive.co.za.

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Rupert denied the allegations that Remgro was a media influencer or state capture. Business Day quoted him as saying: “We have never done business with the state … ever. Firstly, I didn’t trust the previous bunch, and I don’t trust these guys. We have zero influence on the media or the [media] companies we are invested in. So it’s getting a little tedious….”

Rupert said it was “not fun” being targeted by the left and that these attacks are “steered by Bell Pottinger”.

Bell Pottinger executive Victoria Geoghegan told Business Day that the company had a contract to assist Gupta-controlled Oakbay Investments with its external communications and corporate reputation but that “the contract does not involve any of the activities that Remgro’s chairman suggests”.

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