Gautam Adani, Asia’s richest man, abruptly found himself at the center of a firestorm on Wednesday after prominent short-seller Hindenburg Research alleged his India-based business empire was built through fraud.
Adani, 60, experienced a rise in personal wealth last year even as the global economy suffered a period of slowing growth.
He is chairman of Adani Group, a sprawling $21 billion conglomerate that owns many of India’s airports, the nation’s largest private-sector port, the media giant New Delhi Television and many other holdings.
A college dropout, Adani began his career in the diamond industry before joining a plastics factory run by his brother, according to the Financial Times.
Eventually, Adani formed his own company, which began as an import-export operation in the commodities sector and gradually expanded to other initiatives.
A bio on Adani Group’s website describes its namesake founder as a “first-generation entrepreneur” who is focused on “nation-building” through infrastructure development. He is married and has two sons, Karan and Jeet.
“For Mr. Adani, nation-building means transforming India’s coastline by building a string of ports and logistics hubs,” the bio reads. “For him, nation-building also means strengthening the country’s energy security and mitigating the urban-rural divide by delivering electricity to several hundreds of millions living in the hinterlands of India.”
Aside from his high-profile business career, Adani also survived the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, as well as a kidnapping and ransom attempt in 1998, according to the BBC and other outlets.
Adani has faced his fair share of criticism during a rise to international wealth and prominence. Critics have scrutinized his close relationship with and support of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The industrialist is so well-connected in India’s political circles that he has been referred to as “Modi’s Rockefeller.”
Adani was an early booster of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party. In 2014, Modi reportedly flew to the capital city of New Delhi on Adani’s private jet to take over as prime minister.
His wealth ballooned since Modi took power, rising from roughly $5 billion in 2014 to a whopping $121 billion at the end of 2022, according to Bloomberg.
During that period, Adani Group has landed various government contracts and infrastructure projects, according to the Financial Times.
“Modi is not directly helping any individual, that I can tell you,” Adani told the Financial Times in 2013. “Modi is helping industries through policy, and not allowing any nonsense into the system.”
Adani’s net worth skyrocketed by $44 billion last year — more than any other individual tracked by Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index — as he jetted past the likes of Amazon executive chairman Jeff Bezos and Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett.
But the Adani Group’s empire faced unprecedented scrutiny after Hindenburg – an influential firm that previously targeted the electric vehicle firms Nikola and Lordstown Motors – claimed to 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,” Hindenburg said in a lengthy client note on its findings.
Hindenburg noted that Adani Group has faced at least “four major government fraud investigations” and noted that “8 of 22 key leaders are Adani family members.”
Adani-controlled stocks lost the equivalent of approximately $12 billion in value after Hindenburg’s allegations surfaced.
After Hindenburg’s damning report, Forbes estimated Adani to be the world’s fourth-richest person, with a net worth of $119.1 billion, trailing billionaires Bernard Arnault, Elon Musk and Bezos. The Bloomberg Billionaires Index also placed Adani as the fourth-wealthiest person and his wealth at $119 billion.
Adani Group denied the allegations in a statement from its CFO, Jugeshinder Singh.
“We are shocked that Hindenburg Research has published a report on 24 January 2023 without making any attempt to contact us or verify the factual matrix,” Singh said. “The report is a malicious combination of selective misinformation and stale, baseless and discredited allegations that have been tested and rejected by India’s highest courts.”