NEW DELHI, Aug 31 (Reuters) - Millions of dollars were invested in some publicly traded stocks of India's Adani Group via "opaque" Mauritius funds that "obscured" involvement of alleged business partners of the Adani family, the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) said in an article on Thursday.
Citing review of files from multiple tax havens and internal Adani Group emails, nonprofit media organization OCCRP said its investigation found at least two cases where the investors bought and sold Adani stock through such offshore structures.
The OCCRP article comes after U.S.-based short-seller Hindenburg Research in January accused Adani Group of improper business dealings, including the use of offshore entities in tax havens such as Mauritius from where certain offshore funds "surreptitiously" owned stock in Adani's listed firms.
Adani Group has called Hindenburg's claims misleading and without evidence and said it always complied with laws.
Days following the January report though, Adani group stocks lost $150 billion in market value and remain down around $100 billion following a recovery in recent months after it repaid some debt and regained some investor confidence.
In a statement to OCCRP, Adani Group said the Mauritius funds investigated by reporters had already been named in the Hindenburg report and the "allegations are not only baseless and unsubstantiated but are rehashed from Hindenburg’s allegations."
"It is categorically stated that all the Adani Group’s publicly listed entities are in compliance with all applicable laws including the regulation relating to public share holdings,” it told the OCCRP, according to the news article.
Reuters has not independently verified OCCRP's assertions.
HINDENBURG SAGA, REGULATORY PROBE
The Hindenburg report hit hard Gautam Adani, the billionaire who leads the ports-to-energy conglomerate and was until January the world's third-richest person. The crisis forced him to shelve a $2.5 billion share sale and convince banks about his business credentials.
India's Supreme Court later appointed a panel to oversee a market regulator probe based on the Hindenburg report. The panel in May said the regulator had so far "drawn a blank" in investigations into suspected violations in overseas investments in the Adani group.
Last week, the regulator said its report was nearing completion and its investigation on some offshore deals was taking time as some entities were located in tax haven jurisdictions. The regulator "shall take appropriate action based on outcome of the investigations," it said.
The OCCRP Thursday news report named two individual investors who made the investments it investigated for its article -- Nasser Ali Shaban Ahli and Chang Chung-Ling -- described by OCCRP as "longtime business partners" of the Adani family.
The media organization said there was no evidence Chang and Ahli’s money for their investments came from the Adani family, but said its reporting and documents - including an agreement, corporate records and an email - showed there "is evidence" that their trading in Adani stock "was coordinated with the family."
"The question of whether this arrangement is a violation of the law rests on whether Ahli and Chang should be considered to be acting on behalf of Adani 'promoters,' a term used in India to refer to the majority owners of a business," OCCRP said.
If so, OCCRP said, their stake in Adani holdings would exceed the 75% limit allowed for insider ownership.
Ahli and Chang did not respond to OCCRP’s requests for comment, the news article said. Reuters could not immediately reach Ahli and Chang for comment.
In an interview with a reporter from the Guardian, OCCRP said Chang said he knew nothing about any secret purchases of Adani stock. He asked why journalists were not interested in his other investments and said, "We are a simple business."
Reporting by Aditya Kalra and Krishn Kaushik; Editing by Lisa Shumaker
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
Krishn reports on politics and strategic affairs from the Indian subcontinent. He has previously worked at the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, an international investigative consortium; The Indian Express; and The Caravan magazine, writing about defence, politics, law, conglomerates, media, elections and investigative projects. A graduate of Columbia University's journalism school, Krishn has won multiple awards for his work. Contact: +918527322283
Aditya Kalra is the Company News Editor for Reuters in India, overseeing business coverage and reporting stories on some of the world's biggest companies. He joined Reuters in 2008 and has in recent years written stories on challenges and strategies of a wide array of companies -- from Amazon, Google and Walmart to Xiaomi, Starbucks and Reliance. He also extensively works on deeply-reported and investigative business stories.