JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa’s Gupta brothers, three businessmen friends of President Jacob Zuma, are being subjected to false corruption allegations which are part of a “blatantly political campaign” to damage them, a family spokesman has told BBC News.
Last month, local media began releasing a flood of stories about the alleged influence Gupta-owned companies have over government decisions after the leaking of more than 100,000 documents and emails from inside the Gupta commercial empire.
The stories based on the leaked emails have drawn several international firms into a scandal that has also divided the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and prompted senior politicians to call for Zuma’s resignation.
The Gupta-owned companies or family members have not previously responded to the latest accusations that they use their close relationship with Zuma to win government contracts and influence cabinet appointments.
“There are many false allegations circulating about Oakbay and its shareholders, which are part of a blatantly political campaign against us,” Gupta family spokesman Gary Naidoo said in a response to questions by the BBC seen by Reuters on Thursday.
The Gupta brothers are the majority shareholders in Oakbay.
Naidoo has not responded to repeated requests by Reuters for comment over the last six weeks since stories based on the emails began being published.
London-based public relations firm Bell Pottinger, which ended its work with Oakbay in April, this month fired a partner in charge of a PR campaign in South Africa that the Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and political opposition say inflamed racial tensions.
The basis of the allegations were leaked emails that suggested Bell Pottinger worked with Zuma’s son, Duduzane, who was then a director at an Oakbay subsidiary, to create a “narrative that grabs the attention of the grassroots”.
The communications preceded a sustained campaign condemning enemies of Zuma and leftist elements of the ruling ANC as agents of “white monopoly capital”.
“The allegations against us that Bell Pottinger used ‘white monopoly capital’, and created Twitter bots on behalf of Oakbay, have nothing to do with Oakbay. Oakbay did not instruct Bell Pottinger to do anything of the kind alleged,” Naidoo said.
Bell Pottinger has commissioned an independent investigation into its role in the scandal. A company source said the results would be published shortly and would show that much of what was being said about it was false.
“We’re confident that most of the allegations against us are false and will be demonstrated as such,” the source said.
Naidoo said that racial inequality was a major problem.
“Uncomfortable truth though it may be, there is an economic apartheid in South Africa. Our philosophy is that disruptive companies and more competition is what South Africa needs to be transformed.”
The Gupta brothers - Ajay, Atul and Rajesh – moved from India to South Africa in 1993 and built a business empire spanning mining, media and technology. Many of their companies have long-term contracts with state-owned enterprises.
Reporting by Joe Brock and Ed Cropley; Editing by James Macharia and Hugh Lawson