Bell Pottinger team believed in the Guptas - CEO
Johannesburg - UK-based PR firm Bell Pottinger did not want to withdraw from the Guptas' account even after the release of the damning state capture report by the Public Protector.
This was revealed by Bell Pottinger CEO James Henderson in an interview with BBC Radio 4 on Friday.
Henderson said the team in charge of the Gupta account believed in the family. This despite mounting allegations of state capture and corruption at various government departments, he said.
During the same World at One programme interview, Bell Pottinger's former chairperson Lord Timothy Bell said that South African billionaire Johann Rupert threatened to pull out his account from the public relations firm if it did not drop its Gupta account.
Rupert told Bell that he had become the target of the Gupta campaign orchestrated by the firm.
"Johann Rupert wrote to me and he said if you want to handle me, you can't handle the Guptas. I wrote back and said, in that case we won't handle the Guptas."
However, Bell said his instruction to terminate the Gupta contract following Rupert's warning was ignored.
Rupert and several other clients of the firm including investment bank Investec and Richmond then withdrew their account with the firm, Bell said.
Raising red flags
Henderson admitted that Bell had warned him that the Gupta account raised red flags with other clients however the firm continued representing the controversial family.
"His team continued to be involved after clients left us. He (Bell) explained that one client had a particular issue because they didn't like the Guptas and that it was a matter of judgement as to whether you resign on the client because one client doesn't like them," Henderson explained.
Bell said he felt from the very beginning that the Gupta account was a conflict of interest.
The Guptas through Bell Pottinger allegedly launched a campaign against White Monopoly Capital.
A politically toxic contract
"It was a politically toxic contract. I said it should be handled by a political team," Bell added.
Henderson defended the company saying: "We did not do all the things that we are accused of."
He also denied any intention to promote a racially motivated campaign.
"At no point was there an intention or did we advise on a racially motivated campaign to create discord or disharmony within South Africa. We just did not do that."
Bell however refuted this. "It's a complete lie, they knew all about it from the very start."
Henderson told BBC Radio that the company lost a number of clients as a result of their Gupta account.