Arun Sudhaman 18 Aug 2017 // 2:55PM GMT
LONDON — Bell Pottinger is awaiting the decision of the UK's trade association for PR firms after today's disciplinary hearing into its controversial work for South Africa's Gupta family.
A lengthy hearing in London today by the PRCA's Professional Practices Committee (PPC) considered oral evidence from Phumzille van Damme, who made the original complaint on behalf of South Africa's Democratic Alliance opposition party, and from Bell Pottinger CEO James Henderson.
Bell Pottinger is expected to learn its fate next week. The PPC report will be compiled by the 24 August — if the complaint is upheld, Bell Pottinger could face a range of sanctions including suspension and possible expulsion from the PRCA, although the firm retains the ability to appeal.
"The PRCA will make a decision based on the evidence presented at the hearing, and on the recommendation of the Professional Practices Committee," said PRCA director general Francis Ingham in a statement yesterday. "The outcome of the investigation will be announced on or before the week commencing 4 September."
In a statement, van Damme said that "the DA presented a solid case against the PR firm, on how it sought to exploit, the already fragmented, race relations in our country."
The disciplinary hearing follows Bell Pottinger's controversial work for Oakbay Capital, the holding group controlled by the Gupta family, which is closely linked to South African President Zuma. Critics, including several South African civic and political groups, allege that Bell Pottinger attempted to sow racial division on behalf of Oakbay, in a bid to depict Zuma's opponents as agents of 'economic apartheid'.
A Bell Pottinger investigation into the affair has already resulted in the sacking of lead partner Victoria Geoghegan and the suspension of three other executives, pending a full report by law firm Herbert Smith Freehills. The DA has also called on Bell Pottinger's clients to desert the firm — with Henderson admitting to the BBC that the work has cost it relationships with key customers. These include Richemont, Investec and Tourism South Africa.