Congress MP Rahul Gandhi on Thursday flagged the appointment of a former top official of Sebi, the market regulator that looked into allegations against the Adanis in 2014, to the board of a media company the conglomerate now runs.
“There was an investigation. Evidence was given to Sebi, and Sebi gave a clean chit to Adani. And it is very interesting to note that the gentleman who gave the clean chit to Adani is today a director in NDTV (bought by Adani). So, it is very clear, there is something very wrong here,” Rahul said at a news conference here.
Rahul, armed with reports that had appeared in the Financial Times and The Guardian, did not name the official.
Upendra Kumar Sinha was Sebi chairman between February 2011 and February 2017. Citing official correspondence between Sebi and the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI), the Financial Times report said that two separate investigations into the Adanis were under way in January 2014.
The then DRI director-general, Najib Shah, had in January 2014 written to his Sebi counterpart on “the dealings of the Adani group of companies in the stock market”. His letter was accompanied by a CD containing purported evidence from a DRI probe into allegations of inflated invoices at Adani power projects.
The letter said: “There are indications that a part of the siphoned off money may have found its way to stock markets in India as investment and disinvestment in (the) Adani Group.”
This correspondence indicates that Sebi was probing the Adanis in January 2014, which has triggered questions about the regulator’s submission before an apex court-appointed expert committee that the probe began only in October 2020.
Sebi’s role has come under the scanner ever since the apex court-appointed expert committee expressed doubts about the successive amendments to the foreign portfolio investor regulations made since 2018, which could have allowed Adani companies to get away with alleged stock price manipulation, insider trading and money-laundering.
With the DRI’s 2014 letter coming to light, Opposition leaders have questioned the role played by then Sebi chief Sinha in dealing with the allegations against Adani group companies. All these leaders have demanded a joint parliamentary committee probe.
Contacted by The Telegraph, Sinha said: “These are matters related to investigations and so it’s better you ask the question to Sebi. I can’t remember, nor am I expected to remember, what happened nine years ago.”
On his current role as non-executive chair of NDTV, Sinha said: “I joined this company in 2023.… If someone is suggesting that some favour was done nine years ago in anticipation of some return after nine years, I leave it on you to decide the merit of the allegation.”
Economist Prasenjit Bose told this newspaper: “Sebi owes an explanation as to how investigative journalists could collate such hard evidence, while it has failed. Yet, the OCCRP has exposed only the tip of the iceberg. We need a judiciary-monitored independent forensic audit of all the listed Adani companies and suspected FPIs to reveal the litany of offences committed via the Vinod Adani channel.”