Johann Rupert vexed by ‘spin campaign’
Gupta spin doctors Bell Pottinger worked for Remgro for years, but turned on Rupert to deflect attention from state capture activities, says chairman
Johann Rupert, chairman of R113bn investment giant Remgro, has fingered UK-based spin doctors Bell Pottinger — on contract to the Gupta family-controlled Oakbay Investments — for an ongoing campaign to link the business tycoon to state capture activities.
In recent months Rupert has been targeted on social media by certain fringe political commentators that have constructed a narrative that Remgro, which is controlled by the Rupert family, has "control" of key segments of the media.
The social media campaign is widely believed to be an attempt to deflect attention away from lingering state capture allegations involving the Gupta family and their influence over President Jacob Zuma.
Rupert told the Remgro annual meeting on Thursday Richemont, the luxury brands business controlled by the Rupert family, had until recently contracted Bell Pottinger to work on its financial relationships. The contract had lasted 15 to 18 years, he estimated.
"And whilst they were still in the employment of Richemont they started working for the Guptas. The very same person…. Their total task was to deflect attention [from state capture allegations involving the Guptas]. Guess who they took as a target? A client of theirs… Me!"
Bell Pottinger’s contract with Richemont has since been terminated. Rupert said Remgro’s media involvement had always been at the behest of other shareholders or management. The group’s media interests — by far its smallest investment hub — comprised a significant minority stake in e-Media (the owner of e.tv, eNCA and OpenView HD and controlled by Hosken Consolidated Investments) (HCI) controlled
e-Media (the owner of e.tv, ENCA and OpenView HD), an indirect minority stake in niche radio broadcaster Kagiso Media and a small legacy stake in publishing group Caxton.
"The late Eric Molobi got us invested in media (via Kagiso). I have never been to the offices of e.tv … I don’t even know where Caxton is. Terry (Moolman) runs that," he said.
Rupert strongly refuted allegations that Remgro was a media influencer or state capturer. "We have never done business with the state … ever. Firstly, I didn’t trust the previous bunch, and I don’t trust these guys. We have zero influence on the media or the [media] companies we are invested in. So it’s getting a little tedious…."
During apartheid he had been targeted as a "verraaier", Rupert said. "The attacks used to come from the right, now they come from the left. It’s not fun … and it’s steered by Bell Pottinger," he added.
"I’m saying this publicly now. It is well known in the press about how well this campaign is orchestrated to protect a certain family and a certain individual."
Bell Pottinger executive Victoria Geoghegan said the company had a contract to assist Gupta-controlled Oakbay Investments with its external communications and corporate reputation. "However, this contract does not involve any of the activities that Remgro’s chairman suggests."