Business tycoon Gautam Adani smiles after addressing the media in Ahmedabad. Photo: AFP/ Sam Panthaky
Business tycoon Gautam Adani smiles after addressing the media in Ahmedabad. Photo: AFP / Sam Panthaky

Prominent BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, often referred to as the “enfant terrible” of Indian politics, accused industrialist Gautam Adani on Monday of being “the biggest NPA trapeze artist” – suggesting his conglomerate is teetering on top of a mountain of bad loans – and demanded that the group be held accountable for its dealings.

Swamy’s allegations came at a time when India’s battered Public Sector Banks are still investigating the Punjab National Bank fraud worth $1.77 billion.

“The biggest NPA trapeze artiste in Public Sector Undertakings is Gautam Adani. It is time he is made accountable or a PIL [public interest ligitation] is inevitable,” he tweeted.

“Info came to me that he may be having as much as Rs 72,000 (crores) in NPA,” he said to news agency ANI. In other words, non-performing assets allegedly totaling over US$11 billion.

The Adani Group issued a clarification on Wednesday, saying, “singular critical test for debt is its regular servicing — something which Adani Group has implemented diligently. One must also look at financial metrics of the group. The group’s dependence on PSU bank for long-term borrowings is less than 50% at about Rs 34,000 crore and is regularly serviced.”

The Adani Enterprises Ltd stock tumbled more than 3% on Wednesday, in light of Swamy’s allegations.

As of March 2017, the Adani Group’s debt stood at $15 billion (Rs 98,588 crore). In December, Adani sought another $2.3 billion in debt to finance a giant coal mine in northeastern Australia, but was reportedly turned down by Australian and Chinese banks.

In 2011, the Central Bureau of Investigation — India’s top tier enforcement agency — said Adani Group was one of the beneficiaries in a bribes-for-loans scam, in which eight top executives of public sector banks and financial institutions were arrested for granting loans to real estate companies after receiving massive bribes.

Gautam Adani is said to have a close relationship with PM Modi. A 2014 image of Modi leaving Gujarat for his swearing-in in New Delhi aboard a helicopter emblazoned with the Adani logo is often cited by critics to illustrate their ties. His wealth grew fastest in 2017, rising almost 125%.

Protesters rally at Bondi Beach in Sydney against Adani’s controversial coal mine project in Queensland. This picture was taken on October 7, 2017. Photo: Reuters

In 2011, the Gujarat High Court ordered an inquiry into the alleged destruction of mangroves by Adani group companies in Mundra in the western state, where it runs India’s largest private port. Two years later, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government imposed a Rs 200-crore penalty on the group for damaging the environment and breaking laws.

A year after Modi became prime minister, however, the environment ministry under the BJP dropped the penalty and instead ordered a “study” to ascertain the extent of damage caused by the Adani Group. A recent report claims that officials have now reported the project did not violate any regulations or cause any damage to the environment.

In 2014, the country’s top auditing agency — the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) — slammed the then Modi-led Gujarat government for giving undue benefits worth Rs 1,500 crore to certain companies, including Reliance Petroleum, Essar Power and the Adani Group.

That same year the CBI registered a preliminary inquiry against officials at Adani Group for an over-invoicing fraud allegedly totaling Rs 2,300 crore. The group was accused of taking huge loans from public sector banks by showing inflated invoices.

Several fraud allegations against have been leveled against the Adani Group over the past decade. And it has also been linked to corruption in Australia and South Africa.