10/07/2017 07:52 SAST | Updated 10/07/2017 07:52 SAST

Bell Pottinger 'Side-Stepped' Wikipedia Rules To Help Guptas

Leaked emails appear to show that the PR firm was behind the Gupta's Oakbay page despite being under investigation.

Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters
A logo of Oakbay Investments is seen at the entrance of their offices in Sandton, outside Johannesburg, April 13, 2016.

Bell Pottinger appears to have helped the Gupta family edit their Wikipedia page in an attempt to clean up their image, despite being under investigation by Wikipedia for unethical practices. Leaked emails show how Bell Pottinger and the Guptas found ways to make it appear as though it was the Guptas who were editing their page, when the strings were being pulled by the PR firm.

The Times reported on Monday that the PR firm appears to have "side-stepped" Wikipedia regulations.

Bell Pottinger's manager of the Gupta's account, Victoria Geogheghan reportedly emailed a draft of "new content for the Gupta family's Wikipedia page" to a gmail account titled "team media" in February last year. The account is apparently for the Gupta firm, Oakbay.

The email reads: "Attached is the final version of the Wikipedia content. Please can we have a call at 9.15am tomorrow to brief one of your digital team on how to upload the content? We want to be transparent about the new content we are uploading so need to flag that it is an Oakbay employee editing the Wikipedia entry."

The Gupta's Wikipedia page was created a few days before the email was sent. Eleven days after the email, a user called Oakybay Rep edited the page, The Times reported. Th edits reportedly reflected exactly what Bell Pottinger had suggested, which was to add more details on Oakbay's mining operations, and responses from President Jacob Zuma and mining minister Mosebenzi Zwane to various allegations.

In 2012, 10 user accounts linked to Bell Pottinger were reportedly prevented from editing Wikipedia pages, after an investigation revealed that the firm was flouting ethical guidelines.

Company executives were reportedly caught on film boasting about their ability to "drown out" bad coverage of their clients by manipulating Google results, and "sorting" negative Wikipedia content.

Bell Pottinger and Wikipedia did not respond to The Times' questions.