Investec has severed ties with Bell Pottinger, after it emerged that the public relations firm has agreed to represent a holding company owned by South Africa’s controversial Gupta family.
It is understood that the South African bank stopped enlisting the services of Bell Pottinger within the last two weeks, after Johannesburg-based newspaper Business Day reported that the PR firm had taken on the Guptas’ Oakbay Investments as a client.
The Gupta family’s close relationship with President Jacob Zuma is at the centre of the controversy, with critics accusing the family of wielding improper political influence in order to “capture the state” for the sake of its own business interests, which range from media to mining.
Senior politicians recently claimed they were offered cabinet positions by the family, sparking a corruption probe, but the Guptas deny the allegations and say it is part of a plot to oust Zuma.
Bell Pottinger was hired to manage the flurry of bad press surrounding Oakbay, one of the two main holding companies that look after the Guptas’ businesses.
Last month, allegations emerged that the South African mining authorities, under the family’s influence, pushed Swiss resource giant Glencore to sell one of its coal mines to Tegeta Exploration and Resources, a mining company part-owned by Oakbay.
Duduzane Zuma, the son of the President, has direct or indirect holdings in a number of Gupta/Oakbay entities, making the whole situation even murkier. The Guptas deny the accusations.
Bell Pottinger is no stranger to controversy itself. The firm, founded by Margaret Thatcher’s PR guru Lord Bell, has represented clients including shale gas fracking firm Cuadrilla, Asma al-Assad, the wife of the Syrian dictator, and the governments of Bahrain and Egypt.
This is not the first time that Bell Pottinger had risked ruffling Investec’s feathers. In 2014, Lord Bell made an infamous gaffe when he claimed all bankers were “criminals”, at a time when Investec was one of the firm’s clients.
Investec, which has a number of existing relationships with other PR firms, declined to comment.
Bell Pottinger declined to comment.