Controversial publicist Max Clifford. Photo: Neil Hall

Johannesburg - Controversial publicist Max Clifford has had a fractious relationship with South Africa.

In more than four decades as a public relations guru he has been behind countless front pages, feeding stories to the media on behalf of his high-profile clients.

On Monday, he was the first person to convicted of sexual assaults in what stemmed from an investigation launched after the Jimmy Savile molestation scandal.

Clifford, who works for such people as those accused or convicted of crimes as well as those wishing to sell “kiss-and-tell” stories to tabloid newspapers, was enlisted by Shrien Dewani.

The publicist was assigned by Dewani to “give his side of the story” after he was accused of paying to have his wife Anni killed while on honeymoon in Cape Town in November 2010.

“Shrien Dewani is totally innocent,” Clifford said at the time, and launched a visceral attack on South Africa’s criminal justice system.

“It’s obviously a great concern and a great worry to his family. Are they going to take him and torture him and put plastic bags over his head and do this and do that? Because he is in a very fragile state as it is.”

At the top of those he took potshots at was fired police commissioner Bheki Cele.

“It is clear to any right-thinking person that this man Cele has no credibility,” he said after the national commissioner of police claimed on TV that his officers had finally uncovered the long-awaited motive behind Dewani’s alleged complicity in his wife’s murder, which saw Dewani escape unscathed from the hijacking of their vehicle in Gugulethu. A furious Clifford said: “Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty? What chance does he have of a fair trial?

“This is the most powerful man in the South African police. This clearly demonstrates why we are concerned about what would happen to Shrien if he goes back to South Africa. What chance does he have of justice when the chief of police there has condemned him?”

Clifford had also described evidence against Dewani as “flimsy”, saying: “The lies coming out of South Africa are so ludicrous, they’d be laughable if it wasn’t so tragic. They’ll be blaming him for their failure at the World Cup next.”

Clifford has worked with the Beatles, athlete OJ Simpson, actor Marlon Brando, and Rebecca Loos when she negotiated with the media about her alleged affair with England footballer David Beckham.

The Star