Bell Pottinger faces another probe over South Africa work, as other 'clients' targeted by Democratic Alliance

Bell Pottinger is facing a probe by a third UK industry body - the Association of Professional Political Consultants (APPC) - over its controversial work with South Africa's Oakbay Investments, PRWeek has learned.

It follows a complaint to the APPC from South Africa’s opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), which has also begun targeting alleged Bell Pottinger clients in its ongoing campaign against the agency.

The DA accuses Bell Pottinger of stirring up racial tension through its work with Oakbay, the holding company for the Gupta family, which has ties with president Jacob Zuma.

It was alleged Oakbay paid Bell Pottinger to highlight ‘economic apartheid’ in the country, in part, to divide Zuma’s opponents. Agency CEO James Henderson denied this in April, when he said it had ceased working for the Guptas and had become a "political football". The firm has commissioned a law firm to undertake an audit of all the work it did with Oakbay.

The DA has already lodged complaints about the agency with the PRCA and the CIPR. A hearing with the former body is set to take place on 18 August.

The APPC said it could not confirm or deny whether a complaint had been lodged and declined to give details of any action it may take.

However, according to the group’s website, in the event of a complaint, an independent adjudicator is appointed to look into the allegations. A "Professional Practices Panel", made up of three people from outside the profession, could also be convened "if necessary".

If found in breach of the APPC Code of Conduct, possible sanctions include warnings or reprimands, requirement to take remedial action, or suspension or termination of membership.

Meanwhile, in a new statement, DA leader Mmusi Maimane said he has personally written to "a list of companies who procure the serves of Bell Pottinger, urging them to terminate their relationship with the firm".

When contacted by PRWeek, the DA said the companies contacted were: Virgin Media, Currencies Direct, RSA Group, Cuadrilla Resources, Centrica, Williams Grand Prix Holdings, and Waitrose.

However, PRWeek understands that of these, only Waitrose is currently a client of Bell Pottinger. A number of the other firms contacted had been clients of the agency in the past.

Bell Pottinger declined to comment when contacted by PRWeek today.

In a programme about the case on the BBC Radio 4's World at One, broadcast today, Henderson admitted that "a number" of clients had left the agency since the allegations came to light.

The programme reported that asset management company Investec cut ties with Bell Pottinger in March, and luxury goods firm Richemont left subsequently.

In July, the agency dismissed partner Victoria Geoghegan and suspended three further staff over "inappropriate and offensive" activity for Oakbay, following initial findings from the report that it commissioned.

Later, agency co-founder Lord Bell, who left Bell Pottinger last year, said he was "completely ignored" by management when he raised concerns about the firm's work with Oakbay - claims the agency denies.

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