Adani Group: How The World’s 3rd Richest Man Is Pulling The Largest Con In Corporate History ( Hindenburg Research)

  • Today we reveal the findings of our 2-year investigation, presenting evidence that the INR 17.8 trillion (U.S. $218 billion) Indian conglomerate Adani Group has engaged in a brazen stock manipulation and accounting fraud scheme over the course of decades.
  • Gautam Adani, Founder and Chairman of the Adani Group, has amassed a net worth of roughly $120 billion, adding over $100 billion in the past 3 years largely through stock price appreciation in the group’s 7 key listed companies, which have spiked an average of 819% in that period.
  • Our research involved speaking with dozens of individuals, including former senior executives of the Adani Group, reviewing thousands of documents, and conducting diligence site visits in almost half a dozen countries.
  • Even if you ignore the findings of our investigation and take the financials of Adani Group at face value, its 7 key listed companies have 85% downside purely on a fundamental basis owing to sky-high valuations.
  • Key listed Adani companies have also taken on substantial debt, including pledging shares of their inflated stock for loans, putting the entire group on precarious financial footing. 5 of 7 key listed companies have reported ‘current ratios’ below 1, indicating near-term liquidity pressure.
  • The group’s very top ranks and 8 of 22 key leaders are Adani family members, a dynamic that places control of the group’s financials and key decisions in the hands of a few. A former executive described the Adani Group as “a family business.”
  • The Adani Group has previously been the focus of 4 major government fraud investigations which have alleged money laundering, theft of taxpayer funds and corruption, totaling an estimated U.S. $17 billion. Adani family members allegedly cooperated to create offshore shell entities in tax-haven jurisdictions like Mauritius, the UAE, and Caribbean Islands, generating forged import/export documentation in an apparent effort to generate fake or illegitimate turnover and to siphon money from the listed companies.
  • Gautam Adani’s younger brother, Rajesh Adani, was accused by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) of playing a central role in a diamond trading import/export scheme around 2004-2005. The alleged scheme involved the use of offshore shell entities to generate artificial turnover. Rajesh was arrested at least twice over separate allegations of forgery and tax fraud. He was subsequently promoted to serve as Managing Director of Adani Group.
  • Gautam Adani’s brother-in-law, Samir Vora, was accused by the DRI of being a ringleader of the same diamond trading scam and of repeatedly making false statements to regulators. He was subsequently promoted to Executive Director of the critical Adani Australia division.
  • Gautam Adani’s elder brother, Vinod Adani, has been described by media as “an elusive figure”. He has regularly been found at the center of the government’s investigations into Adani for his alleged role in managing a network of offshore entities used to facilitate fraud.
  • Our research, which included downloading and cataloguing the entire Mauritius corporate registry, has uncovered that Vinod Adani, through several close associates, manages a vast labyrinth of offshore shell entities.
  • We have identified 38 Mauritius shell entities controlled by Vinod Adani or close associates. We have identified entities that are also surreptitiously controlled by Vinod Adani in Cyprus, the UAE, Singapore, and several Caribbean Islands.
  • Many of the Vinod Adani-associated entities have no obvious signs of operations, including no reported employees, no independent addresses or phone numbers and no meaningful online presence. Despite this, they have collectively moved billions of dollars into Indian Adani publicly listed and private entities, often without required disclosure of the related party nature of the deals.
  • We have also uncovered rudimentary efforts seemingly designed to mask the nature of some of the shell entities. For example, 13 websites were created for Vinod Adani-associated entities; many were suspiciously formed on the same days, featuring only stock photos, naming no actual employees and listing the same set of nonsensical services, such as “consumption abroad” and “commercial presence”.
  • The Vinod-Adani shells seem to serve several functions, including (1) stock parking / stock manipulation (2) and laundering money through Adani’s private companies onto the listed companies’ balance sheets in order to maintain the appearance of financial health and solvency.
  • Publicly listed companies in India are subject to rules that require all promoter holdings (known as insider holdings in the U.S.) to be disclosed. Rules also require that listed companies have at least 25% of the float held by non-promoters in order to mitigate manipulation and insider trading. 4 of Adani’s listed companies are on the brink of the delisting threshold due to high promoter ownership.
  • Our research indicates that offshore shells and funds tied to the Adani Group comprise many of the largest “public” (i.e., non-promoter) holders of Adani stock, an issue that would subject the Adani companies to delisting, were Indian securities regulator SEBI’s rules enforced.
  • Many of the supposed “public” funds exhibit flagrant irregularities such as being (1) Mauritius or offshore-based entities, often shells (2) with beneficial ownership concealed via nominee directors (3) and with little to no diversification, holding portfolios almost exclusively consisting of shares in Adani listed companies.
  • Right to Information (RTI) requests we filed with SEBI confirm that the offshore funds are the subjects of an ongoing investigation, more than a year-and-a-half after concerns were initially raised by media and members of parliament.
  • A former trader for Elara, an offshore fund with almost $3 billion in concentrated holdings of Adani shares, including a fund that is ~99% concentrated in shares of Adani, told us that it is obvious that Adani controls the shares. He explained that the funds are intentionally structured to conceal their ultimate beneficial ownership.
  • Leaked emails show that the CEO of Elara worked on deals with Dharmesh Doshi, a fugitive accountant who worked closely on stock manipulation deals with Ketan Parekh, an infamous Indian market manipulator. The emails indicate that the CEO of Elara worked with Doshi on stock deals after he evaded arrest and was widely known as a fugitive.
  • Another firm called Monterosa Investment Holdings controls 5 supposedly independent funds that collectively hold over INR 360 billion (U.S. $4.5 billion) in shares of listed Adani companies, according to Legal Entity Identifier (LEI) data and Indian exchange data.
  • Monterosa’s Chairman and CEO served as director in 3 companies alongside a fugitive diamond merchant who allegedly stole U.S. $1 billion before fleeing India. Vinod Adani’s daughter married the fugitive diamond merchant’s son.
  • A once-related party entity of Adani invested heavily in one of the Monterosa funds that allocated to Adani Enterprises and Adani Power, according to corporate records, drawing a clear line between the Adani Group and the suspect offshore funds.
  • Another Cyprus-based entity called New Leaina Investments until June-September 2021 owned over U.S. $420 million in Adani Green Energy shares, comprising ~95% of its portfolio. Parliamentary records show it was (and may still be) a shareholder of other Adani listed entities.
  • New Leaina is operated by incorporation services firm Amicorp, which has worked extensively to aid Adani in developing its offshore entity network. Amicorp formed at least 7 Adani promoter entities, at least 17 offshore shells and entities associated with Vinod Adani, and at least 3 Mauritius-based offshore shareholders of Adani stock.
  • Amicorp played a key role in the 1MDB international fraud scandal that resulted in U.S. $4.5 billion being siphoned from Malaysian taxpayers. Amicorp established ‘investment funds’ for the key perpetrators that were “simply a way to wash a client’s money through what looked like a mutual fund”, according to the book Billion Dollar Whale, which reported on the scandal.
  • ‘Delivery volume’ is a unique daily data point that reports institutional investment flows. Our analysis found that offshore suspected stock parking entities accounted for up to 30%-47% of yearly ‘delivery volume’ in several Adani listed companies, a flagrant irregularity indicating that Adani stocks have likely been subject to ‘wash trading’ or other forms of manipulative trading via the suspect offshore entities.
  • Evidence of stock manipulation in Adani listed companies shouldn’t come as a surprise. SEBI has investigated and prosecuted more than 70 entities and individuals over the years, including Adani promoters, for pumping Adani Enterprises’ stock.
  • A 2007 SEBI ruling stated that “the charges leveled against promoters of Adani that they aided and abetted Ketan Parekh entities in manipulating the scrip of Adani stand proved”. Ketan Parekh is perhaps India’s most notorious stock market manipulator. Adani Group entities originally received bans for their roles, but those were later reduced to fines, a show of government leniency toward the Group that has become a decades-long pattern.
  • Per the 2007 investigation, 14 Adani private entities transferred shares to entities controlled by Parekh, who then engaged in blatant market manipulation. Adani Group responded to SEBI by arguing that it had dealt with Ketan Parekh to finance the start of its operations at Mundra port, seemingly suggesting that share sales via stock manipulation somehow constitutes a legitimate form of financing.
  • As part of our investigation, we interviewed an individual who was banned from trading on Indian markets for stock manipulation via Mauritius-based funds. He told us that he knew Ketan Parekh personally, and that little has changed, explaining “all the previous clients are still loyal to Ketan and are still working with Ketan”.
  • In addition to using offshore capital to park stock, we found numerous examples of offshore shells sending money through onshore private Adani companies onto listed public Adani companies.
  • The funds then seem to be used to engineer Adani’s accounting (whether by bolstering its reported profit or cash flows), cushioning its capital balances in order to make listed entities appear more creditworthy, or simply moved back out to other parts of the Adani empire where capital is needed.
  • We also identified numerous undisclosed related party transactions by both listed and private companies, seemingly an open and repeated violation of Indian disclosure laws.
  • In one instance, a Vinod Adani-controlled Mauritius entity with no signs of substantive operations lent INR 11.71 billion (U.S. ~$253 million at that time) to a private Adani entity which did not disclose it as being a related party loan. The private entity subsequently lent funds to listed entities, including INR 9.84 billion (U.S. $138 million at more recent substantially lower exchange rates) to Adani Enterprises.
  • Another Vinod Adani-controlled Mauritius entity called Emerging Market Investment DMCC lists no employees on LinkedIn, has no substantive online presence, has announced no clients or deals, and is based out of an apartment in the UAE. It lent U.S. $1 billion to an Adani Power subsidiary.
  • This offshore shell network also seems to be used for earnings manipulation. For example, we detail a series of transactions where assets were transferred from a subsidiary of listed Adani Enterprises to a private Singaporean entity controlled by Vinod Adani, without disclosure of the related party nature of these deals. Once on the books of the private entity, the assets were almost immediately impaired, likely helping the public entity avoid a material write-down and negative impact to net income.
  • Adani Group’s obvious accounting irregularities and sketchy dealings seem to be enabled by virtually non-existent financial controls. Listed Adani companies have seen sustained turnover in the Chief Financial Officer role. For example, Adani Enterprises has had 5 chief financial officers over the course of 8 years, a key red flag indicating potential accounting issues.
  • The independent auditor for Adani Enterprises and Adani Total Gas is a tiny firm called Shah Dhandharia. Shah Dhandharia seems to have no current website. Historical archives of its website show that it had only 4 partners and 11 employees. Records show it pays INR 32,000 (U.S. $435 in 2021) in monthly office rent. The only other listed entity we found that it audits has a market capitalization of about INR 640 million (U.S. $7.8 million).
  • Shah Dhandharia hardly seems capable of complex audit work. Adani Enterprises alone has 156 subsidiaries and many more joint ventures and affiliates, for example. Further, Adani’s 7 key listed entities collectively have 578 subsidiaries and have engaged in a total of 6,025 separate related-party transactions in fiscal year 2022 alone, per BSE disclosures.
  • The audit partners at Shah Dhandharia who respectively signed off on Adani Enterprises and Adani Total Gas’ annual audits were as young as 24 and 23 years old when they began approving the audits. They were essentially fresh out of school, hardly in a position to scrutinize and hold to account the financials of some of the largest companies in the country, run by one of its most powerful individuals.
  • Gautam Adani has claimed in an interview to “have a very open mind towards criticism…Every criticism gives me an opportunity to improve myself.” Despite these claims, Adani has repeatedly sought to have critical journalists or commentators jailed or silenced through litigation, using his immense power to pressure the government and regulators to pursue those who question him.
  • We believe the Adani Group has been able to operate a large, flagrant fraud in broad daylight in large part because investors, journalists, citizens and even politicians have been afraid to speak out for fear of reprisal.
  • We have included 88 questions in the conclusion of our report. If Gautam Adani truly embraces transparency, as he claims, they should be easy questions to answer. We look forward to Adani’s response.

Initial Disclosure: After extensive research, we have taken a short position in Adani Group Companies through U.S.-traded bonds and non-Indian-traded derivative instruments. This report relates solely to the valuation of securities traded outside of India. This report does not constitute a recommendation on securities. This report represents our opinion and investigative commentary, and we encourage every reader to do their own due diligence. Please see our full disclaimer at the bottom of the report

Introduction

India is home to many of the world’s most brilliant entrepreneurs, engineers, and technologists and is emerging as a global superpower. However, the country’s economy has been held back by the broken state of its capital markets.

Criticism of India’s elite businessmen and politicians has increasingly resulted in journalists being imprisoned or outright murdered. Stock market analysts have been arrested for writing negatively about companies. Amidst this climate of stifled expression, corporate fraud has largely gone unchecked.

In this report, we highlight what we believe to be one of, if not the most egregious example of corporate fraud in history.

We have uncovered evidence of brazen accounting fraud, stock manipulation and money laundering at Adani, taking place over the course of decades. Adani has pulled off this gargantuan feat with the help of enablers in government and a cottage industry of international companies that facilitate these activities.

These issues of corruption permeate multiple layers of government. According to numerous sources we spoke with, Indian securities regulator SEBI seems more inclined to protect the perpetrators than punish them.

We view sunlight as the best remedy, and hope this report helps illuminate these issues. Further to that goal, we hope Adani addresses the 88 questions we have included in the conclusion to this report.

Background On Adani Group, One Of India’s Largest Conglomerates With a Collective Market Capitalization Of INR 17.8 Trillion (U.S. $218 Billion)

Adani Group is the 2nd largest conglomerate in India, run by its Chairman and Founder Gautam Adani, who is currently the 3rd richest man on earth, previously having reached the #2 spot.

The group has 7 key publicly listed equities (9 in total) with a collective market value of about INR 17.8 trillion (U.S. $218 billion).[1] It also includes a maze of Adani private companies and family trusts. Through their holdings in the group, Gautam Adani and his family have amassed a paper fortune of over U.S. $120 billion, with over $100 billion of that coming in the past 3 years, largely through the meteoric appreciation of its stock prices.

The conglomerate is involved in a wide array of businesses, largely focused on key infrastructure projects such as development of ports, mines, airports, data centers, power generation and power transmission.

The 7 key Adani listed companies have seen their stock prices mysteriously surge over the past 3 years – with most increasing multifold – ranking them individually among the largest companies in India. Both Adani Enterprises and Adani Ports feature in India’s Nifty 50 index and 6 of the companies are included in the MSCI India Index.[2]

 (Source: Bloomberg)
**Adani Wilmar performance is since February 2022 IPO

The 7 Listed Companies Of Adani Group Are 85%+ Overvalued Even If You Ignore Our Investigation And Take The Companies’ Financials At Face Value

Even before examining the evidence put forward in this report and based solely on financials taken directly from its companies, the Adani Group appears to be highly overvalued.

Infrastructure firms are generally relatively sleepy, low growth, low multiple enterprises, yet valuation metrics of the Adani listed companies are comparable to the frothiest of high-growth tech companies.

(Source: FactSet & Hindenburg analysis)

On a blended basis, compared to industry peers, we see 85%+ downside purely on fundamentals.

Adani Group Companies’ Use Of Extreme Leverage Spells Danger For Creditors. In The Past, Members Of The Adani Group Have Breached Financial Covenants And Obligations, According To Regulatory Filings

“Any Group With Such A Meteoric Ride Based On Borrowings, Acquisitions, And An Elevated Stock Price Deserves Scrutiny.” – Former Senior Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Official

From a solvency perspective, multiple listed entities in the group are highly leveraged relative to industry averages: Four of 7 of these entities have negative free cash flow, indicating that the situation is worsening.

A company’s ‘current ratio’ is a measure of liquid assets less near-term liabilities. Five companies in the group (all but Adani Ports and Adani Wilmar) have current ratios below 1.0, suggesting a heightened short-term liquidity risk.

(Source: FactSet)

In terms of unrestricted cash, Adani Ports is the only listed entity with significant reserves at INR 86 billion (U.S. $1.05 billion), according to its FY 2022 Annual Report. [Pg. 515] It is also the only listed entity which seems capable of consistently generating substantial positive cash flow: approximately INR 52 billion (U.S. $640 million) as of 31 March 2022. [Pg. 141]

Concerns about the Adani Group’s leverage have been expressed by CreditSights, a fixed income research firm owned by prestigious financial services firm Fitch Group. A blistering report about Adani Group published in August 2022 had called the group “deeply over-leveraged” and suggested it could “unravel Adani’s vast business empire”. The report was “toned down” in September 2022 after CreditSights met with the company.

In its latest report, CreditSights refused to change its investment recommendations, and maintained that “several of the Group companies maintain elevated leverage, owing to aggressive expansion plans, that are largely debt-funded and that have pressurized their credit metrics and cash flow”, per local media.

This story was originally published in hindenburgresearch.com . Read the full story here

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