The arrival of an Indian billionaire to the position of richest man in the world would have been flashy news for the Asian country.
One more example of the strength of an emerging power just the year in which it will surpass China as the most populous country in the world thanks to its more than 1,400 million inhabitants.
Gautam Adani was a serious candidate to achieve it.
He only had the Frenchman Bernard Arnault, owner of LVMH, and the American Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and owner of Twitter, ahead of him.
But that was a few days ago.
On January 24, the small New York investment firm Hindenburg Research published an explosive document of more than 100 pages in which it accuses the Adani Group conglomerate of committing accounting fraud for decades and getting rich by manipulating the prices of its subsidiaries in the markets, especially the of seven companies that appreciated 819% in just three years.
Adani Group's businesses include, among many other assets, ports, coal mines, food companies, airports, data centers and power plants.
The scandal has caused a stampede of investors that has lowered the group's stock market value by more than 100,000 million dollars and deflated the Indian businessman's fortune in record time.
He is no longer the richest man in Asia.
Not even from his country.
And he has slipped to 17th on Forbes' list of the world's wealthiest.
This Thursday, that
awarded him a heritage of 64,200 million dollars, practically half that of last week.
Denying the accusations has done nothing for Adani, a man well connected to power in his country through his long friendship with India's prime minister, the nationalist Narendra Modi.
In his answer, even longer —413 pages—, he plays the trick of unifying his business empire with the country where he operates, as if they were the same thing: he describes what happened as a "calculated attack against India ”.
And he makes no secret of his contempt for his accusers, whom he calls "Manhattan Madoffs," in reference to the notorious Wall Street hustler.
Hindenburg Research's intentions in accusing Adani of illegal practices are not altruistic.
The company takes its name from the German zeppelin that went up in flames in 1937, a tragedy that killed 36 people.
“We look for similar man-made disasters floating around the market and aim to shed light on them before they attract more unsuspecting victims,” the company says on its website.
But after the two-year investigation to unmask Adani and the dozens of interviews that appear in his report, there is also an economic objective: they are a bear fund that makes more money the greater the fall of those they publicly denounce.
That does not necessarily mean that they lie to achieve it, because in that case the play could end up turning against them.
Their biggest triumph came in 2020 with their bet against the electric company Nikola Corporation, although they did not reveal the amount of their loot.
Now, his new and succulent prey is the Indian tycoon.
They do not believe that the spectacular jump in his fortune, which went from 8.9 billion dollars in 2019 to more than 120 billion recently, has been in accordance with the law.
And the timing of dropping the bombshell couldn't have been more inopportune for Adani, who was in the midst of raising $2.4 billion from investors when the information rocked his company, and he ultimately backtracked on the deal.
The group's listing on the Bombay Stock Exchange has lost 52% of its value in the last five sessions.
And the matter is not only a blow to the pocket of its owner and its shareholders - large and small, spread throughout the world.
It also questions the credibility of the Indian system, which, if the accusations were confirmed, would not have had the necessary control and counterweight mechanisms to stop the businessman's tricks.
The outcome of
the Adani case
will be widely followed by investors, since it will set a precedent that they will analyze before entrusting their capital to firms that may have engaged in similar practices.
Meanwhile, Adani has continued with his corporate agenda trying to convey normality in the midst of the storm.
This week she went to Haifa (Israel) to participate in an act for the purchase of the port of that city by the firm he directs.
It is just one more piece of the group's immense business puzzle, which has not stopped extending its tentacles to new sectors.
Last May he bought the Indian cement subsidiary of the Swiss group Holcim by disbursing 10,500 million.
In addition, he is close to becoming the largest shareholder of NDTV after launching a hostile takeover bid for this television channel, one of the voices critical of the management of the Indian prime minister.
A frantic race that has now run into an unexpected obstacle.
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