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Beleaguered Indian tycoon denies Modi links amid staggering fall in stocks

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Adani Group chairman Gautam Adani in this undated photo. (BCCL)

The beleaguered Indian business magnate Gautam Adani has firmly denied reports that Prime Minister Narendra Modi helped him become Asia's richest man - a title he lost recently amid a stunning slump in stocks of his conglomerate.

The 60-year-old chairman of the Adani Group in an interview with India Today on Friday downplayed his close association with the Indian premier and claimed his professional success was not because of any particular individual.

"Prime Minister Modi and I are from the same state. That makes me the easy target of such baseless allegations... It is unfortunate that such narratives are being pushed against me," he was quoted as saying.

Critics claim that Adani's close relationship with Modi, who is also from Gujarat state in western India, has propelled his business conglomerate and helped the school dropout become one of the richest men in the world.

"The fact of the matter is that my professional success is not because of any individual leader but because of the policy and institutional reforms initiated by several leaders and governments during a long period of over three decades," Adani said, dismissing the allegations. 

Since US short-seller Hindenburg Research, which makes money by betting on shares falling, released an explosive report last week, the combined market capitalization of Adani Group's listed units has crashed by more than $100 billion.

The report said the group indulged in accounting fraud and artificially boosted its share prices, calling it a "brazen stock manipulation and accounting fraud scheme" and "the largest con in corporate history". 

Adani's personal fortune has plummeted by tens of billions of dollars, throwing him out of the real-time Forbes rich list top 20, where he used to be third.  

He claims to be the victim of a "maliciously mischievous" reputational attack, issuing a 413-page statement on Sunday that said Hindenburg's claims were "nothing but a lie". In response, Hindenburg said Adani failed to answer most of the questions raised in its report.

The leader of the opposition party Rahul Gandhi in September last year accused Modi of allegedly "taking out money from the pocket of the common man" and giving it to his "crony capitalist friends", one of whom was the second-richest man in the world.

Adani and Modi’s relationship dates back to the Bharatiya Janata Party leader’s days as the chief minister of Gujarat state in early 2000.

As the markets signaled, Modi’s arrival as the country's prime minister in 2014 provided a major boost to the Adani Group’s fortunes.

According to reports, his business saw an astounding rise into becoming a multibillion-dollar corporation, with shares soaring more than 1,000 percent over the past five years. The group’s listed companies saw their value rise by some 85 percent, soon after Modi’s inauguration in 2014.

Within a year of Modi taking office, the group's market value rose by over Rs 50,000 crore.

Both are frequently pictured together at high-profile events, including on the prime minister’s foreign visits, and Modi even used Adani Group aircraft while traveling to campaign during the 2014 general election.

The Adani Group has faced multiple allegations of tax evasion, money laundering, bribery and environmental crimes, yet it has largely evaded any action from regulatory bodies and investigative agencies.

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