The Congress on Wednesday asked the 100th Adani question to Prime Minister Narendra Modi: will you act in the national interest using the vast army of investigative agencies at your disposal to look into the conglomerate and your own complicity in the murky affairs?
No controversy in India has thrown up 100 questions — a milestone at which the Congress has wrapped up the HAHK (Hum Adani Ke Hain Kaun) series.
The Opposition party listed five central agencies which abdicated their responsibilities in the context of the alleged violations by the Adani group: the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi), Enforcement Directorate (ED), Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO), Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) and the CBI.
Insisting that only a joint parliamentary committee can investigate the whole gamut of issues, Congress communications chief Jairam Ramesh said: “This scam is not limited to the stock market. This is about politics and governance; this is about the Prime Minister’s neeyat (intention) and neeti (policy). Our questions are Modi-centric. The Supreme Court-appointed experts committee’s mandate is not to look into these issues. They don’t have the courage to question the Prime Minister.”
Ramesh added: “As we said earlier, this committee is meant to shield the government and the Prime Minister; it is intended to give a clean chit to the Prime minister. The committee also lacks formal jurisdiction over these central agencies.”
"The Prime Minister has never hesitated to deploy these agencies against the Opposition, civil society and independent businesses. We now appeal to you (Modi), with some irony, to use them as they are intended, to investigate the most brazen case of corruption and cronyism the country has witnessed since 1947,” Ramesh said.
He expressed outrage at the false equivalence created by the Modi government between the demand for a JPC and that for Rahul Gandhi’s apology for saying what he said during his interactions in London. “This is a typical Modi tactic: distort, defame and divert. Rahul Gandhi has sought permission to respond to the baseless charges levelled against him. But the JPC demand is non-negotiable. The Adani scam is a reality and the Rahul issue is deception, a hoax. There is no link.”
Asked about the proposal of the Trinamul Congress, which is not supporting the joint Opposition’s demand for a JPC, to initiate investigations into the Adani affairs in states ruled by non-BJP parties, Ramesh said: “It is laughable. Those who ask states to investigate neither understand the economy, nor politics. Their sole objective is to give a clean chit to the Prime Minister. How can states probe the ED, CBI, SFIO, DRI and Sebi? The questions are about the PMO. What will the states do?”
Ramesh introduced Amitabh Dubey, who is part of the communications department and who worked on the 100 questions, asking him to explain how the central agencies did not do their job.
Dubey said: “The accusation of brazen ‘stock manipulation via a vast labyrinth of offshore shell entities’ falls directly under the Sebi ambit. It has previously investigated the Adani group, but it failed to protect investors as the group’s market capitalisation unnaturally soared 1,000 per cent in three years.”
Dubey explained: “Sebi had previously found that entities associated with the notorious stock manipulator, Ketan Parekh, had indulged in ‘manipulative activities such as synchronised trading/circular trading and creation of artificial volume to influence the price in the scrip of Adani’ between 1999 and 2001.
“Yet, it was asleep at the wheel during an even more egregious scam in recent years. Opaque offshore entities such as Monterosa group, Elara India Opportunities Fund, Cresta Fund, etc, appear guilty of ‘stock parking’, in which a third party holds shares to conceal” before regulators the actual owner’s ownership or control.
Pointing out that the ED is meant to investigate money laundering, foreign exchange violations and economic fugitives, Dubey said it had instead become “your chosen tool” of political intimidation.
He said the ED had previously investigated the Chinese national Chang Chung-Ling, a close Adani associate, and named his firm Gudami International in two chargesheets related to the AgustaWestland VVIP helicopter scam before his name mysteriously disappeared in subsequent chargesheets. Chang declared the same Singapore residential address in 2005 as Vinod Adani.
He said another case fit for the ED was that of the Mauritius-based Acropolis Trade and Investment that controls Ambuja Cement. “Vinod Adani is a director in Acropolis which reported $7 billion (Rs 51,400 crore) as revenue in 2020-21 but zero income and a $25,980 loss in 2021-22. Surely the ED can tell us how a shell company that owns a critical infrastructure firm has revenues of Rs 51,400 crore in one year and zero the next? Also how six offshore funds linked to Vinod Adani were anchor investors in the Adani Enterprises’ failed Rs 20,000-crore follow-on public offer, which is once again suggestive of money-laundering and round-tripping,” he added.
The SFIO had filed a chargesheet in 2012 accusing the Adani group and Ketan Parekh of making fraudulent gains of Rs 540 crore by manipulating Adani Exports’ shares and had lodged cases of cheating and criminal conspiracy against Gautam and Rajesh Adani. Yet, it went into a slumber after Modi became Prime Minister, Dubey said.
Pointing out how the ED and the CBI helped Adani acquire Mumbai airport, Dubey said: “The CBI could investigate how Jharkhand amended its policy that required all power plants located there to supply 25 per cent to the state at discounted rates, a decision that helped only Adani Power and cost the state an additional Rs 7,410 crore over the Adani project’s lifetime.”
The CBI could also reopen the file on how three Adani group companies were found to have overpaid the Dubai-based Electrogen Infra FZE Rs 9,048 crore for power equipment imported from China and South Korea that was worth only Rs 3,580 crore, he said. Dubey added that the rest of the money was allegedly syphoned out of the country by the Vinod Adani-linked Electrogen Infra Holding.