MUST LISTEN: BBC interviews Atul Gupta, Bell Pottinger. It ain’t pretty.

JOHANNESBURG — It’s rare for one of the Guptas to be interviewed by media. So, the BBC on Tuesday had a major scoop when its World at One broadcast kicked off a series on the Guptas and UK PR firm Bell Pottinger. Atul Gupta, a key player in the Zupta empire, was interviewed by the BBC in what the broadcaster said would be a first in a series of broadcasting his views on state capture. What is incredible is how Atul Gupta goes on to vehemently deny the authenticity of the Gupta email leaks in the interview while claiming that Bell Pottinger are an “ethical” firm who only did work for the Guptas recording company news from Oakbay. Of course, it looks like Atul, like his brother Ajay (see link here), is terrible at media interviews and also distorts the truth. Below then is my deconstruction of Atul Gupta… – Gareth van Zyl

Below is the transcription of the BBC’s interview with Atul Gupta. My comments are in square brackets, with bolded italics:

Atul Gupta: “We always have some companies who doing some sort of PR and Bell Pottinger is one of the PR company in the group.

I don’t know what is this narrative come from? White Monopoly Capital, if you go and search any revolutionary speech in this country always exist. I don’t know where this terms come from, believe me.”

[Mr Atul Gupta, please tell me how you don’t know where this narrative comes from? After all, the Gupta email leaks provide plentiful evidence that Bell Pottinger – the company you hired to beef up your image – purposefully employed the ‘white monopoly capital’ phrase. The Gupta leaks also reveal how your once Lieutenant, Nazeem Howa, had plenty correspondence with Bell Pottinger regarding an anti-white campaign. Bell Pottinger even wrote speeches for the likes of the ANCYL to drive home the white monopoly capital phrase. You employed Bell Pottinger in this instance; you, therefore, must have known. Also, why would Bell Pottinger apologise for the racial hate it created in South Africa if it wasn’t behind the ‘white monopoly capital’ phrase?] 

Journalist: “But it wasn’t in common usage until the Bell Pottinger campaign when suddenly it was all over social media, people were talking about it?”

Atul Gupta: “Actually there’s no, nothing like that. I don’t know where this narrative coming from. I don’t think so it belongs to anyone of our professional advisors or anyone. I don’t think so. I will be shocked. It’s very unheard of. They (Bell Pottinger) are very credible people. I believe they should not do anything like that; neither us, nor them.”

[Mr Gupta, by saying that Bell Pottinger are very credible people, you surely realise the irony in that? Bell Pottinger is about to face down a probe by PR Association bodies in the UK over their dodgy behaviour in South Africa in relation to your business with the PR firm. Also, it’s not the first time that Bell Pottinger’s credibility has been called into question. The company has previously been under the spotlight for its work in creating propaganda in Iraq.]

Journalist: “The Gupta leaks have showed that a part of Bell Pottinger’s role was also offering advice to groups like the Military Veterans, the ANC Youth League. Why if they were hired by Oakbay, were they also providing advice to political movements?”

Atul Gupta: “Not at all. First let’s talk Gupta Leaks. There’s no authenticity of Gupta Leaks at all, nothing. They are all everyday perception mongering to drive their own agenda.”

[Okay, hold your horses there Mr Gupta. I know that you constantly retweet US President Donald Trump’s tweets about ‘fake news’. You’re clearly a fan of the Trump. But questioning the authenticity of facts in South Africa won’t fly. If the Gupta emails are fake, then why are the likes of SAP, McKinsey and Software AG probing Gupta kickback deals that emerged as a result of these leaks? Also, you just need to ask journalist Justice Malala who recently confirmed the authenticity of the leaks. How did he confirm it? Well, one of his emails was in the leaks. Take a read here.]

Journalist: “Everyone I’ve spoken to in Bell Pottinger, nobody’s denied the credibility of the leaks?”

Atul Gupta: “But no one show me ever, no one have authenticity of these mails.”

[Again, don’t think you can fool anybody here Mr Gupta. The leaks are real.]

Journalist: “Would you say it wasn’t accurate that Bell Pottinger were advising political movements?”

Atul Gupta: “I really do not know what they coming from, where. If you know Bell Pottinger is suppose an advisor, but I think such an ethical company should not be doing anything funny. Not at all.”

[Also again, there is a very big question over Bell Pottinger’s ethics in light of it having apologised for its role in stirring racial hatred in South Africa. Added to that, I once again encourage you to go read about the trouble Bell Pottinger created with its propaganda campaigns in countries such as Iraq. Come clean Atul. Give us the real story on how you came to sign up Bell Pottinger and why. Your days of proclaiming ‘fake news’ are over.]

END


You can listen to other snippets of the BBC interview (with Lord Bell and Bell Pottinger CEO James Henderson) by clicking on these audio links below. The link to the full BBC broadcast is also included below, while there is a full transcription of the interview posted below for your reading as well:

Listen to the full BBC newscast by clicking here. The Gupta-Bell Pottinger feature starts at around 6 minutes 55 seconds into the broadcast: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08z986n

Below is the full transcription of the BBC feature:

James Deal, thank you. The public relations firm Bell Pottinger has often courted controversy with its choice of clients. They represented the Paralympian Oscar Pistorius after he was charged with murder. Asma-al-Assad, the Syrian First Lady and also the Pinochet Foundation, whilst the former Chilean dictator was being detained in Britain but the latest crisis the company faces could be the most challenging yet. They stand charged of fomenting racial tensions in the tinderbox of post-apartheid South Africa. As we’ll hear in his first broadcast interview following the scandal, the CEO of Bell Pottinger is adamant that this was never their intention. Manveen Rana has the first of four special investigative reports, which we’ll be bringing you across this week.

White monopoly capital are only worried about protecting their wealth.” “We are going to defeat White monopoly capital and we are going to take back our land. We are going to take back our mines. We are coming for the banks as well.”

President Zuma accompanied by Atul Gupta, Malusi Gigaba and Nazeem Howa.

More than 20 years after the end of apartheid, protests are again breaking out on the streets of South Africa, based on race.

We are in a fight and our strategic enemy remains White monopoly capital.”

It’s even infecting politics.

Incidentally, it implicates the British PR firm called Bell Pottinger.”

Could a British firm be to blame for stoking racial divisions in post-apartheid South Africa?

“At worst, we were very naïve with what we got involved with.”

Black First Land First is one of the groups that now regularly take to the streets, calling for land to be returned from the white population and assets to be stripped from what they refer to as ‘white monopoly capital’. The term isn’t new but it’s become a furious buzzword over the past year, as the leader of Black First Land First tells me.

White monopoly capital must be destroyed. It means that we’ve just been screwed, basically, by these companies.”

The sudden popularity of terms like White monopoly capital and economic apartheid coincides with the British PR firm Bell Pottinger – no strangers to controversy – taking up a contract to work for perhaps, their most controversial clients – the Gupta family.

I thought the Guptas was a controversy too far.”

Lord Bell is the Founder and former Chairman of Bell Pottinger.

I said so, but I was ignored by my colleagues.”

Over the years, you have represented a lot of very controversial and fairly dubious characters. Was this different?

I don’t think I’ve handled any dubious characters. I can defend them all and I can defend the things I did for them.”

Could you defend the Guptas?

No, I couldn’t defend the Guptas.”

So, who are the Guptas?

They are the most hated family in South Africa.”

The three Gupta brothers only migrated from India in the early nineties. Since then, they’ve become so close to President Zuma that they’re now collectively referred to as the Zuptas. In that time, they’ve also become multi-billionaires and for many people in South Africa, it’s hard not to connect the two.

The Guptas pounced when President Jacob Zuma was down on his knees – politically. They sort of cosied up to him. They went into business with his sons and that sort of thing and so he was quick to return the favour when he came into office.

Zapiro cartoon on ‘Willing Buyer, Willing Seller’ principle, #StateCapture. More of his magic available at www.zapiro.com.

Mike Reddy is an investigative journalist at the online news site amaBhungane. They’ve been publishing the Gupta Leaks – hundreds of thousands of leaked emails, which show how the Gupta and Zuma families used Bell Pottinger to try to change the political landscape.

Zupta must fall. Zupta must fall.

It’s hard to explain the grip the Guptas have on South Africa. They own mines, technology businesses, arms and manufacturing interests, as well as a TV station and a national newspaper. A recent report by the government’s Ombudsman in South Africa, accused them of corruption on such an epic scale that it requires a whole new name – State Capture.

Gupta brothers

They have bought a country for themselves. They’ve bought the President who dines with them and takes instructions from them. The President doesn’t even take instructions from his own political party. He takes instructions from that family.”

Julius Malema is the leader of one of the main opposition parties in South Africa but as a former ANC insider, he says he’s seen the Gupta influence at work for years.

They called Fikile Mbalula and told him they’re going to make him the Minister of Sports and it happened exactly like that. We raised it in the meeting where Zuma was present, where we said we cannot have family that appoints ministers.”

The Guptas and President Zuma deny any wrongdoing but it’s been alleged that to distract attention from State Capture and to bolster President Jacob Zuma’s position, the Guptas hired Bell Pottinger to run a campaign blaming the country’s problems on the big businesses that dominate the economy (or White monopoly capital).

We are against those people who undermine President Zuma.”

Leaked emails between Bell Pottinger and Duduzane (President Zuma’s son who works with the Guptas) suggest the PR firm weren’t just advising them. They were also being asked to provide talking points and advice on speeches like this one – for political movements like the ANC Youth League. Bell Pottinger also ran a social media operation. Vote Sec, the blog and Twitter feed they set up frequently criticized ministers who tried to block the Guptas. It criticised big, White-owned business and it republished reports with threatening titles like ‘South Africa’s white minority warned they face uprising and Zimbabwe-style landgrabs’. The blogs saved much of its criticism for Pravin Gordhan who was hated by the Guptas and mysteriously sacked by President Zuma. He says that the Bell Pottinger campaign, which he thinks is partially responsible for his sacking was really, a distraction technique.

Bell Pottinger’s role has been to (1) interfere with the sovereignty of South Africa, (2) to attempt to mask corruption in South Africa, (3) to plan and plot counterattack on people who were standing up to corruption and who were attempting to expose corruption in South Africa and thereby, being collaborators.”

The Chief Executive of Bell Pottinger, James Henderson strongly disputes this.

BBC Newsnight focuses on Bell Pottinger.
BBC Newsnight focuses on Bell Pottinger.

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; some of which, were in the political arena.”

The Guptas hardly ever speak to the media. The last time a member of the family did an interview, it was arranged through Bell Pottinger and the journalist wasn’t allowed to know who he was interviewing until he’d signed a non-disclosure agreement. He wasn’t allowed to publish the interview because he wasn’t even allowed to keep his recording of it. So, in an exceptionally rare interview, which I recorded and held onto, Atul Gupta (one of the three Gupta brothers) told me that Bell Pottinger was only ever hired to do corporate PR for their company, Oakbay.

We always have some companies who are doing some sort of PR and Bell Pottinger is one of the PR companies in the Group. I don’t know where this narrative comes from. White monopoly capital: if you go to any such revolutionary speech in this country, it always exists. I don’t know where this comes from. Believe me”

But it wasn’t in common usage until the Bell Pottinger campaign when suddenly, it was all over social media and people were talking about it.

Actually, there’s nothing like that. I don’t know where this narrative comes from. I don’t think it belongs to any one of our professional advisors. I don’t think so. I would be shocked. It’s unheard of. They’re very credible people, I believe. They should not do anything like that – neither us, nor them.”

The Gupta leaks have showed that part of Bell Pottinger’s role was also offering advice to groups like military veterans and the ANC Youth League, Why, if they were hired by Oakbay, were they also providing advice to political movements?

Not at all. First, let’s talk about Gupta leaks. There’s no authenticity to the Gupta leaks at all. I think it’s everyday perception-mongering to drive their own agenda.”

Everyone I’ve spoken to in Bell Pottinger… Nobody has denied the credibility of the leaks.

But no-one can show me the authenticity of these emails.”

Would you say it wasn’t accurate that Bell Pottinger were advising political movements?

I really don’t know where they’re coming from. Bell Pottinger is an advisor and I think that such an ethical company should not be doing anything funny – not at all.”

There’ll be more from Atul Gupta later in the week but his account is very different to Lord Bell’s. He was at the very first meeting when Bell Pottinger met the Guptas.

The first meeting was sitting and listening to Tony Gupta tell us how wonderful he was, how he made so much money that he never needed to earn any more money, and he couldn’t spend it if he tried. He’d done all these things and he was so successful – the great hero. Everyone adored him. The country adored him and it was wonderful. To show us how wealthy he was, he flew us down to Cape Town for lunch in his private jet. He went off for a meeting. We had lunch, came back, and then spent the evening discussing what we would do. It became quite clear that what they wanted to do was mount a campaign to encourage what you might call Black Economic Empowerment.”

So, that was discussed at the initial meeting. It wasn’t ‘come and be the PR company for Oakbay Industries’ or anything… It was actually about this political campaign.

He never asked us to handle the PR for Oakbay. Oakbay came much later and he never talked about doing public relations for them but the conversation became quite clear. He felt that he was stopped from doing things because he was the wrong colour and that only white people could raise money in South Africa.”

And that’s why he wanted this campaign for economic emancipation. It’s for the family’s economic emancipation, effectively.

That’s why I think he wanted a campaign for economic emancipation because it would enable him to improve the position of his company and ‘do down’ the opposition.

“South Africa capture”. More magic available at jerm.co.za.

Was it quite clear that this would be a very political campaign? I know that later on, there were emails that showed Bell Pottinger were offering advice on political speeches and on speaking points for political movements.

We didn’t talk about it. After that first meeting, we went away and did a proposal. One of the proposals suggested that we do various things, including organising people to march, to give demonstrations, to make a fuss about the fact that they got the vote in 1994 but they hadn’t gotten any power.”

Lord Bell left Bell Pottinger last summer after a bitter feud with the current Chief Executive James Henderson, which he says was at least in part because of the Gupta account. There’ll be more from him later in the week, too. Since the Gupta Leaks, Bell Pottinger has become a toxic name in South Africa with protestors holding up pictures of staff and targeting them online. Bell Pottinger have now apologised, fired the partner who was in charge of the account, suspended three others and launched their own inquiry, conducted by a legal firm to investigate the claims that the company was stirring up racial divisions in South Africa. The former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, says the apology doesn’t go far enough.

All of the money that they made in South Africa must come back. Let it be use for one or another kind of useful purpose in this country. Equally important, is that the legal firm that is investigating Bell Pottinger must come to South African shores. We want to see them. We want those who have been affected by Bell Pottinger’s campaign to speak directly to them as well. Equally, we want the CEO in South Africa. Let him appear before one of our parliamentary committees or an equivalent tribunal and honestly, tell us what Bell Pottinger does in this country.”

James Henderson, who runs Bell Pottinger, says neither he nor the lawyers conducting the enquiry will be going to South Africa any time soon.

Well, the first thing that we’re going to do is actually, ascertain clearly what work we did and the accusations that have been levelled at us and highlight, very clearly, what it is that we did do and what it is (hopefully) that we didn’t do. I would question whether there’s a need at this stage, to go to South Africa because firstly, they need to ascertain what we did and what we didn’t do.”

Pravin Gordhan wants Bell Pottinger to return the money that they made from this account to South Africa for some better purposes. Is that something you’d consider doing?

Pravin Gordhan, former South African finance minister, looks on during a news conference in Pretoria, South Africa, on Friday, March 31, 2017. Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

This is not about the money. This account has cost us reputationally and in terms of the amounts that we’ve had to spend on reports – our client loss is a lot more than that. This has been a costly account for us. We have been targeted by a number of political parties. All of our employees have been personally targeted with death threats – huge intimidation. There has been a huge impact on clients. We’ve obviously got a review going on with Herbert Smith so certainly, it would be wrong to say we’ve made money from this account in any way.”

Is it something you regret?

Of course, I regret that we are in this issue. There was a firm belief by the team involved, that they were working for the client and the client’s best interests. In hindsight, you asked me, “Do I think they misjudged the political sensitivity?” Yes, I do. Do I think that they were deliberately embarking on a racially motivated campaign? No, they weren’t. They were trying to highlight an issue in (largely) a very responsible way. There was no intention to play with race. There was no intention to highlight a very real issue. Knowing what I know now: clearly, in hindsight, they got involved in a situation that was much more political than had clearly, been anticipated by them at the time.”

Manveen Rana reporting. We’ll here more on this story as well as extensive interviews with Lord Bell and James Henderson as this series of investigations continue on the World at One for the rest of the week.

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