Who is Gautam Adani, the Indian billionaire, founder and chairman of the Adani Group ? His career path, from his beginnings in trading to an empire worth several hundred billion dollars, is impressive. Until his recent reversal of fortune, just as spectacular…
Everyone knows the myth of Icarus, the young man who died for flying too close to the sun with wings of wax and feathers. This is indeed the tragedy of Gautam Adani, the Indian billionaire, founder and chairman of the Adani Group. In September 2022, the businessman had become the second richest person in the world with a capital of 148 billion US dollars, a value calculated on the basis of the market capitalization of his conglomerate. Questioned in January 2023 by the Hindenberg fund, the value of the Adani group loses nearly 100 billion dollars, never seen before. The story of a fall.
A meteoric rise
In 1985, Gautam was 23 years old and tried to start a business with his brother in Mumbai. Ten years later, he landed a contract to manage the port of Mundra and saw a clear path into the port business. Gautam Adani is a smart man who positions himself among the country’s influential figures. As a friend of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi (who became Prime Minister in 2014), he obtained the rights to operate the infrastructure on the north shore of the Gulf of Kutch for 30 years in 2001. In 2003, Modi granted him the authorization to create a special economic zone, exempted from the common rules of taxation, which allowed him to increase his fortune considerably.
He then became a specialist in import-export, in petroleum products, coal and agricultural products. He became India’s largest importer of coal in the early 2000s and later built coal-fired power plants. A loyalist of Narendra Modi, Gautam Adani has seen his assets grow from $70 million to $7 billion. His group is frequently supported by the state in awarding licenses or signing contracts. Since 2019, the Adani group invests in many areas : ports, airports, energy, media… So a real empire.
The descent into hell
But despite its large capital base, the Adani Group was heavily indebted. In January 2023, the world-renowned investment fund Hindenburg Research published a report claiming that the group was a huge scam. Hindenburg’s investigation, conducted by financial analysts, provided evidence that public data on its solvency had been manipulated by management. The turbulence was felt immediately, both in the stock markets and in the Indian political sphere. The 60-year-old owner of India’s former largest conglomerate saw his personal fortune melt away. In only ten days, it was divided by two at 69 billion dollars.
Held by Nathan Anderson, Hindenburg also accuses Gautam of “brazen manipulation of shares”, as well as “accounting fraud of several decades”. He also denounces the “labyrinth of imaginary offshore entities” installed in tax havens (such as Cyprus, Mauritius or the Caribbean). This seems to be evidence of the group’s fraud, but also of the inherent corruption of the government, which failed to act. The stock market was immediately affected, and within days Adani Group lost $120 billion in total capitalization, more than half of what its shares were worth in mid-January. Faced with huge capital flows, some subsidiaries had to suspend operations on Friday. The financing capacity of the subcontinent’s largest company is permanently reduced.
Gautam Adani finally took to television to address what he called slander. He denied accusations of collusion between the Indian government, led by Narendra Modi, and himself : “the fact is that my professional success is not due to one leader but to the political and institutional reforms initiated by several leaders and governments over a long period of more than three decades”.
Although still a multi-billionaire, the tycoon has suffered a historic, considerable fall. In a 413-page report, the group dismissed the Hindenburg Report’s allegations as “nothing more than lies” and condemned the “malicious attacks” on his reputation.
Even when they are melting and burning, we try to save our feathers.
Featured photo : © Press
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