India markets regulator to tell court Adani inquiry began 2014, but hit dead end

SEBI restarted investigations into the group this year after US-based short-seller Hindenburg Research raised governance concerns - allegations Adani Group has denied

Reuters
Published : 5 Oct 2023, 10:28 AM
Updated : 5 Oct 2023, 10:28 AM

India's markets regulator will tell the country's top court why it paused, then restarted investigations into the Adani Group after a tip in 2014 amid questions around regulatory delays, according to two people with direct knowledge of the matter.

The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) will say for the first time that India's customs authority alerted it to an alleged misuse of offshore funds by Adani Group companies in 2014 but that the initial investigation did not yield anything and was paused in 2017, the sources said.

SEBI restarted investigations into the group this year after US-based short-seller Hindenburg Research raised governance concerns - allegations Adani Group has denied.

Both sources declined to be named because they are not authorised to speak to the media. SEBI did not respond to an email seeking comment. UK Sinha, who was chairperson of SEBI during the investigations, declined Reuters requests for comment.

SEBI has not before said it investigated the group in 2014, and the regulator's plan to clarify the timeline of investigations has not been reported.

A public interest litigant told the Supreme Court in September 2023 that SEBI had concealed the 2014 alert, which alleged stock price manipulation using offshore entities.

One of the sources said SEBI pursued the allegations after being alerted in January 2014. Between then and 2017, SEBI sought but failed to get data from foreign jurisdictions, the second source said.

India's Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) also investigated. DRI in the alert to SEBI had alleged Adani Group companies over-valued equipment and machinery imported from a United Arab Emirates (UAE)-based entity, according to court documents.

DRI suspected some of the funds used in those transactions may have found their way back into the Adani Group’s listed companies, according to a letter from DRI to SEBI in January 2014, seen by Reuters.

But a DRI adjudicator dismissed the customs department’s charges in 2017, the source said.

"After this, SEBI investigation fell by the wayside,” the source said.

DRI did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

DRI appealed the adjudicator's decision to drop the investigation, but a higher court dismissed it in 2022, saying evidence was not reliable. The Supreme Court also dismissed the appeal in March 2023 saying that the matter did not require its interference.

The Supreme Court is overseeing SEBI's current probe into the Adani Group.

In a status report in August, SEBI said it had nearly completed its probe, but continues to investigate possible violation of public float rules by Adani Group using offshore funds and irregular trading before the Hindenburg report was published, according to court filings.