India’s Adani Group stung by fresh controversy

Indian billionaire Gautam Adani.
Image caption,Gautam Adani runs the Adani Group, one of India’s biggest companies

India’s Adani Group is facing a fresh controversy after a new report says it used “opaque” funds to bypass rules that prevent share price manipulation.

The report alleges the group invested millions of dollars in publicly traded stocks of its own companies through offshore structures.

It names two individual investors who allegedly bought and sold the stocks on the group’s behalf.

The Adani Group rejected the claims, calling them “meritless”.

The report was published on Thursday by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), a global network of investigative journalists. The Guardian and Financial Times also published stories based on documents they provided.

The Adani Group operates across a wide range of sectors, including commodities trading, airports, utilities, ports and renewable energy, in India and other countries. It is led by billionaire Gautam Adani, who is currently at No. 24 on the Forbes real-time billionaires list.

Mr Adani is perceived as being close to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and has long faced allegations from opposition politicians that he has benefited from his political ties, which he denies.

The businessman was plunged into a major scandal earlier this year after Hindenburg Research – a US-based short seller – accused his group of “brazen” stock manipulation and accounting fraud. Hindenburg had also alleged that the group was using overseas entities and shell companies to invest money into its own stocks, hence driving up share prices.

The group denied the claims, calling them “malicious”, but its shares lost billions in market value and it had to call off a proposed share sale. A panel appointed by India’s Supreme Court is currently supervising an investigation by the country’s market regulator into the allegations.

The OCCRP report says that two investors “spent years trading hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of Adani Group stock”. The two men, it says, have “close ties to the Adani family” and have been directors and shareholders in companies associated with the group.

The BBC has not independently reviewed the allegations.

OCCRP said there was no evidence that the funds they used for their investments were from the Adani family.

But it added that the reporting and documents reviewed by their journalists showed there “is evidence” that their trading in Adani stock “was coordinated with the family”.

The OCCRP said the question of whether this arrangement is a violation of the law rests on whether the two investors “should be considered to be acting on behalf of Adani ‘promoters’, a term used in India to refer to the majority owners of a business”.

There was no immediate public reaction from the two men but the Adani Group questioned the timing of the news report, calling it “suspicious, mischievous and malicious”.

“We have complete faith in the due process of law and remain confident of the quality of our disclosures and corporate governance standards,” it said.

Shares of Adani Enterprises, the group’s flagship company, were trading down 2.82% on the benchmark BSE index.

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