One of South Africa’s Gupta brothers said leaked emails suggesting his family used links to President Jacob Zuma to win contracts and influence decisions were fake, a rare intervention in a scandal that has rocked the government.
Atul Gupta – whose family business empire spans media, mining and technology – told the BBC he had no idea where more than 100,000 documents and emails released in the media since June had come from.
“There’s no authenticity of Gupta leaks at all,” he said, without suggesting who might have forged them or addressing specific allegations in the paperwork.
Senior members of the ruling African National Congress party have accused the three Gupta brothers of using their relationship with Zuma to wield influence and win business.
Media reports based on the emails have drawn several international firms into a scandal that has prompted politicians to call for a judicial enquiry and Zuma’s resignation.
Zuma and the Guptas have denied wrongdoing. A family spokesman last month said the allegations were false and part of a “blatantly political campaign”.
Atul Gupta said his family also had no role in a publicity campaign by London-based public relations firm Bell Pottinger that cast enemies of Zuma as agents of “white monopoly capital”.
The slogan, aired frequently on a Gupta-owned television station, quickly gained traction in a country where the white minority still wields disproportionate economic clout two decades after the end of apartheid.
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and opposition members have said the campaign inflamed racial tensions.
“I don’t know what this narrative comes from. White monopoly capital, if you go research any revolutionary speech in this country, always existed. I don’t know where any of these terms come from, believe me,” he told BBC Radio 4’s World at One show on Tuesday.
The leaked emails suggested Bell Pottinger worked with Zuma’s son, Duduzane, who was then a director at a subsidiary of the Gupta-controlled Oakbay company, to create a “narrative that grabs the attention of the grassroots”.
Bell Pottinger ended its work with Oakbay in April and last month apologised for the campaign and fired a partner in charge of it.
The firm is also under investigation by Britain’s Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) after a complaint from South Africa’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA).
“It wasn’t an intention to play with race, it was an intention to highlight a very real issue,” Bell Pottinger’s Chief Executive James Henderson told the BBC.
“Knowing what I know now, clearly in hindsight, they (the team) got involved in a situation which was much more political than clearly had been anticipated by them at the time.”
Reporting by Nqobile Dludla; Editing by James Macharia and Andrew Heavens