Bell Pot­tinger: Key play­ers and con­tro­ver­sial clients

Lesotho Times - - International -

LON­DON — Lord Bell, Margaret Thatcher’s favourite PR man when she was prime min­is­ter, co-founded Bell Pot­tinger in 1987.

The agency has stan­dard cor­po­rate clients, such as the con­struc­tion group Car­il­lion and the car deal­er­ship Look­ers, but over the past three decades it has also taken on highly sen­si­tive geo-po­lit­i­cal PR ac­counts and other con­tro­ver­sial clients.

These in­clude the Pinochet Foun­da­tion; Syria’s first lady, Asma al-as­sad; the gov­ern­ments of Bahrain and Egypt; Os­car Pis­to­rius, af­ter he was charged with mur­der; FW de Klerk, when he ran against Nel­son Man­dela for pres­i­dent; and Alexan­der Lukashenko, the Be­laru­sian dic­ta­tor.

It also emerged last year that Bell Pot­tinger had been paid £500m to make pro­pa­ganda videos in Iraq on be­half of the US gov­ern­ment. They in­cluded short news seg­ments made to look like Ara­bic news net­works and fake in­sur­gent videos.

Key play­ers in the SA scan­dal

The Gup­tas and the Zu­mas — the Zup­tas

The wealthy, pow­er­ful and con­tro­ver­sial Gup­tas have been de­scribed as “the most hated fam­ily in South Africa”.

The Gupta brothers moved from In­dia to South Africa in 1993 and de­vel­oped a very close re­la­tion­ship with Ja­cob Zuma and his fam­ily, be­com­ing bil­lion­aires along the way.

They have been widely ac­cused of us­ing ties to Zuma to in­flu­ence gov­ern­ment de­ci­sions.

Zuma’s son, Duduzane, has been a direc­tor of sev­eral Gupta-owned com­pa­nies as well as work­ing for Oak­bay, the busi­ness at the cen­tre of the scan­dal.

The Gup­tas started out with a com­puter busi­ness, but over 25 years have de­vel­oped a con­glom­er­ate that in­cludes coal and ura­nium mines, air travel, en­ergy and man­u­fac­tur­ing, a TV sta­tion and a na­tional news­pa­per.

Vic­to­ria Geoghe­gan

The 34-year-old was Bell Pot­tinger’s part­ner lead­ing the Gupta ac­count.

Geoghe­gan met Duduzane Zuma to dis­cuss and ul­ti­mately run what would ul­ti­mately be­come the “eco­nomic eman­ci­pa­tion” cam­paign. As the scan­dal es­ca­lated a Face­book cam­paign with pic­tures of her and the word “wanted” ap­peared.

Geoghe­gan was a high flyer at the firm she joined 12 years ago. As re­cently as De­cem­ber she was still rapidly climb­ing the cor­po­rate lad­der, be­ing ap­pointed man­ag­ing direc­tor of Bell Pot­tinger’s fi­nan­cial and cor­po­rate divi­sion.

She re­signed from Bell Pot­tinger on 6 July, when she was seven months preg­nant and due to go on ma­ter­nity leave. The same day the PR agency is­sued an “un­equiv­o­cal and ab­so­lute” apol­ogy for the cam­paign.

James Hen­der­son

Hen­der­son was one of the engi­neers of the £20m man­age­ment buy­out of the Bell Pot­tinger PR busi­ness from par­ent com­pany Chime, along­side Lord Bell, when it was taken over by WPP and the US eq­uity firm Prov­i­dence Eq­uity Part­ners in 2012.

He took the role of chief ex­ec­u­tive and is the largest in­di­vid­ual share­holder in the PR busi­ness. He main­tains he knew noth­ing about the South Africa cam­paign, but stood down on Sun­day, say­ing that “as chief ex­ec­u­tive I have ul­ti­mate ex­ec­u­tive re­spon­si­bil­ity for Bell Pot­tinger”.

Lord Bell

Bell left the PR agency that car­ries his name last sum­mer. He has since said that one of the rea­sons he de­cided to leave was his un­ease over the Oak­bay ac­count.

Bell­said his warn­ings that the Gupta ac­count was “smelly” were ig­nored by se­nior man­age­ment he told, in­clud­ing Hen­der­son. The agency has re­port­edly de­nied he voiced his con­cerns.

Ever the risk-taker, when Bell quit the firm last year he im­me­di­ately set up a new busi­ness called Sans Fron­tieres, the same name as the arm of Bell Pot­tinger that han­dled some­times con­tro­ver­sial geo-po­lit­i­cal work. — Guardian

Bell Pot­tinger fired part­ner Vic­to­ria Geoghe­gan and sus­pended three more staff mem­bers af­ter sus­tained pres­sure by South African civic so­ci­ety into its re­la­tion­ships with the Gup­tas

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