• Former partners of the Gupta-linked PR firm Bell Pottinger have repaid, or promise to repay, some R9 million worth of profits liquidators say they were not entitled to.
  • The company left about R130 million in unpaid bills behind when it closed down.
  • But CEO James Henderson is reportedly not keen on handing back R7.5 million administrators say he owes.
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Partners in Bell Pottinger, the public relations firm best known in South Africa for its close relationship with the Gupta family, have repaid or promise to repay some R9 million in profits its liquidators say they were not entitled to receive.

But James Henderson, at the time of its liquidation the CEO, is reportedly fighting an attempt to hold him personally liable for around R7.5 million in such profits.

Bell Pottinger first denied it had been behind attacks on Gupta foes and campaigns around "white monopoly capital", then apologised for the role it had played in those efforts.

But a finding by the UK's Public Relations and Communications Association that its work had been "likely to inflame racial discord in South Africa and appears to have done exactly that" saw clients abandon the company in droves. Soon after it was put into liquidation when its administrators could find no willing buyer.

See also: The Bell Pottinger executive fired for her Gupta 'WMC' campaign is back in business

Those administrators, from accounting firm BDO, have been pursuing the recovery of money ever since to help cover the £7 million (R130 million) owed to creditors.

The £4 million in profits pocketed by 44 partners – money the administrators say they should not have received – would go a long way to paying off those debts.

The latest report from the administrators show that 12 former partners have repaid £157,000 (around R3 million) of that already, the Financial Times reported this week. Nine more partners have agreed to give back £311,000 (nearly R6 million) – but two partners have been unreachable, and 17 have not agreed to repay money. 

Although the partners involved are not identified in the report, The Telegraph said Henderson is "wrangling" over his share, worth R7.5 million.

Partners in the firm – especially those involved in the Gupta contract – may still face a legal claim from administrators on the basis that they had breached partnership agreements and brought the company into disrepute.

(Compiled by Phillip de Wet)

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