Gautam Adani, Asia’s richest man, suddenly found himself at the center of a firestorm on Wednesday after prominent short seller Hindenburg Research claimed his India-based business empire was built through fraud.
Adani, 60, has seen his personal wealth soar over the past year even as the global economy suffered from a period of slowing growth.
He chairs the Adani Group, a sprawling $21 billion conglomerate that owns many of India’s airports, the country’s largest private port, 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 his brother ran, according to the Financial Times.
Eventually, Adani founded his own company, which started as an import-export company in the commodities sector and gradually expanded to other initiatives.
A biography on Adani Group’s website describes the eponymous founder as a “first generation entrepreneur” focused on “nation building” through infrastructure development. He is married and has two sons, Karan and Jeet.
“For Mr. Adani, nation-building means reshaping India’s coastline by building a series of ports and logistics hubs,” reads the biography. “For him, nation-building also means strengthening the country’s energy security and reducing the urban-rural divide by providing electricity to hundreds of millions of people in the Indian hinterland.”
Aside from his high-profile business career, Adani also survived the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, and a kidnapping and ransom attempt in 1998, according to the BBC and other media.
Adani has met his fair share of criticism throughout his rise to international wealth and notoriety. Critics have questioned his close relationship with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his support.
The industrialist is so well connected in India’s political circles that he has been dubbed “Modi’s Rockefeller”.
Adani was an early booster of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party. Modi reportedly flew Adani’s private jet to the capital, New Delhi, in 2014 to take over as prime minister.
His wealth has exploded since Modi came to power, rising from around $5 billion in 2014 to a whopping $121 billion by the end of 2022, according to Bloomberg.
During that time, Adani Group landed various government contracts and infrastructure projects, according to the Financial Times.
“Modi doesn’t help any individuals directly, I can tell you that,” Adani told the Financial Times in 2013. “Modi helps the industry through politics and doesn’t let nonsense into the system.”
Adani’s net worth skyrocketed by $44 billion last year — more than any other person tracked by Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index — as he passed the likes of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett.
The Adani Group empire, however, came under unprecedented scrutiny after Hindenburg – an influential firm that had previously targeted electric vehicle companies Nikola and Lordstown Motors – claimed to have “uncovered evidence of brazen accounting fraud, stock manipulation and money laundering at Adani, that took place over the course of decades.”
“Adani has accomplished this gargantuan feat with the help of government enablers and a cottage industry of international companies facilitating these activities,” Hindenburg said in a lengthy note to clients of his findings.
Noting that the Adani Group has faced at least “four major government fraud investigations,” Hindenburg noted that “8 of 22 key leaders are members of the Adani family.”
Adani-controlled shares lost the equivalent of around $12 billion in value after Hindenburg’s allegations surfaced.
After Hindenburg’s damning report, Forbes ranked Adani as the fourth richest person in the world with a net worth of $119.1 billion, behind billionaires Bernard Arnault, Elon Musk and Bezos. The Bloomberg Billionaires Index also placed Adani as the fourth richest person and his fortune at $119 billion.
The Adani Group denied the allegations in a statement from its CFO, Jugeshinder Singh.
“We are shocked that Hindenburg Research released a report on January 24, 2023 without attempting to contact us or verify the fact matrix,” Singh said. “The report is a malicious combination of selective misinformation and outdated, unfounded and discredited allegations that have been examined and dismissed by India’s highest courts.”