Public relations firm Bell Pottinger has apologised for its role in a media campaign in South Africa that critics say was inflaming racial tensions.
The UK-based company sacked one employee and suspended another three, admitting the campaign was “offensive”.
Critics say it sought to stoke racial tensions by focusing on the dominant role of white-owned businesses.
They claim it is part of a larger initiative to distract attention from allegations of massive corruption.
Claims of undue influence have been made against South African President Jacob Zuma, the wealthy Guptas family and their political allies.
Mr Zuma and the Guptas have consistently denied all the allegations.
‘White monopoly capital’
In a statement on Thursday, Bell Pottinger Chief Executive James Henderson said: “We wish to issue a full, unequivocal and absolute apology to anyone impacted.
“These activities should never have been undertaken. We are deeply sorry that this happened.”
Bell Pottinger said it had ended its contract with Oakbay, a company owned by the Guptas, three months ago.
The PR firm also said it had asked an independent law firm to review “the account and the work done on it”.
Although that investigation was still continuing, Bell Pottinger said it had “already been shown interim evidence which has dismayed us”.
Company critics in South Africa and media outlets had for some time accused the PR firm of presenting opponents of President Zuma and the Guptas as agents of a “white monopoly capital” during a sustained campaign.
Pressure on Bell Pottinger increased recently after local media had leaked emails allegedly showing its employees working with Guptas’ representatives on a campaign focusing on “economic apartheid”.
The authenticity of the emails has not been independently verified.
Separately, Bell Pottinger was recently reported to a professional body for Britain’s PR industy.
The Democratic Alliance, South Africa’s main opposition party, accused the PR company of unethical behaviour.