Bell Pottinger executives filmed bragging about high-level connections while offering their services to faux Uzbeki government officials.
Senior executives at U.K. firm Bell Pottinger have been surreptitiously filmed bragging about close connections with top power players in U.K. politics from the Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour parties and the ability of the firm to influence Prime Minister David Cameron. In addition, the executives discuss employing so-called ‘dark arts’ to tailor Google search results surrounding controversial figures and topics. The executives boasted of being able to get Prime Minister Cameron to give one of their Chinese clients a phone call twenty-four hours after being requested to do so. The undercover reporters posed as representatives from the central Asian country of Uzbekistan, a brutal post-Soviet dictatorship known for human rights abuses. Many of the firms called upon by the reporters-in-guise did not respond to business inquiries while Bell Pottinger was among five who fell for the scheme. This video reveals a growing problem for London as it is increasingly becoming a center for oppressive, pariah states to come and hire lobbyists to improve their image with governments in attempts to pursue economic relationships. Disturbingly, the executives from Bell Pottinger were undeterred by the horrific history of human rights abuses and oppression that Uzbekistan has come to be known for and instead openly bragged of their ability to manipulate available information, negative or positive, through Google search results. In an example of its ability to drown out negative noise on Google, Bell Pottinger representatives recounted their work for an east African firm named Dahabshiil, a money transfer company whose Google reputation had been tarnished because one of its former employees was stationed in Guantanamo Bay. Bell Pottinger executives denied any sort of ethical breach in their discussions with the faux Uzbeki representatives. In fact, Bell Pottinger ceased its working relationship with the oppressive eastern European nation of Belarus after working to improve the dictatorship’s reputation in Europe in order to get travel bans to Belarus repealed. After Belarus’ recidivist tendencies became clear, Bell Pottinger stopped working with the Lukashenko regime. To quote one of the executives, said while selling Bell Pottinger’s services: “To the Western world it’s a developing market so you can always have the message that: ‘We are changing with the times – we are emerging, learning as a nation and growing. Britain has this sort of moral ethic it thinks it can impose upon the world still because of our colonial background and the Commonwealth. We forget that 100 years ago we had kids working cotton mills here.”