The value of Gautam Adani's empire has plunged around $120 billion since a bombshell report was published last week / © AFP/File
Beleaguered Indian tycoon Gautam Adani denied Friday that his rise to become Asia's richest man -- a title he has lost in a phenomenal stock rout -- was due to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as shares in his conglomerate fell again.
His listed units' combined market capitalisation has collapsed by around $120 billion -- about half of the group's value -- since US short-seller Hindenburg Research, which makes money by betting on shares falling, released an explosive report last week.
It accused Adani of accounting fraud and artificially boosting its share prices, calling it a "brazen stock manipulation and accounting fraud scheme" and "the largest con in corporate history".
Critics say Adani's close relationship with Modi, who is also from Gujarat state, has helped him win business and avoid proper oversight.
"These allegations are baseless," Adani told India Today television on Friday, adding that their shared origins made him an "easy target" for such claims.
"The fact of the matter is that my professional success is not because of any individual leader," he insisted.
His comments came as shares in his flagship firm Adani Enterprises went on a rollercoaster ride on the Bombay Stock Exchange, hitting multiple trading stops as they fell by 30 percent before recovering to close up 1.25 percent on the day.
But several other listed units including Adani Total Gas -- in which French giant TotalEnergies has a 37.4 percent stake -- closed lower again after being suspended for hitting their limits.
TotalEnergies said in a statement its exposure to the conglomerate was minimal and welcomed Adani's announcement this week that it would undergo an audit by one of the "big four" accounting firms.
Parliament was adjourned for a second straight day on Friday after opposition lawmakers again demanded the government grant a debate on Adani and Indian financial institutions' exposure to the group.
Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman said Indian markets were well regulated and the controversy would not affect investor confidence.
"One instance, however much talked about globally, I would think is not going to be indicative of how well Indian financial markets have been governed," she told broadcaster News18.
- Share sale cancelled -
Adani has seen his fortune plummet by tens of billions of dollars, dumping him from third to 17th on the real-time Forbes rich list.
The 60-year-old publicity-shy school dropout's operations expanded at breakneck speed, with Adani Enterprises shares soaring more than 1,000 percent over the past five years.
But late Wednesday his main firm cancelled a $2.5-billion stock sale meant to help reduce debt levels -- long a concern -- restore confidence and broaden its shareholder base.
The issue failed to attract "mom and dad" retail investors and only sold out thanks to large institutional buyers, fellow Indian moguls and $400 million from the United Arab Emirates' IHC.
Big banks including Credit Suisse and Citigroup have stopped accepting Adani bonds as collateral for loans to private clients, according to Bloomberg News, fuelling worries about how the conglomerate will raise fresh funds.
Bonds nonetheless rallied slightly on Friday after Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan bankers told clients that parts of Adani's portfolio remained strong, Bloomberg reported, citing unidentified sources.
Fitch Ratings said in a statement there was "no immediate impact" on rated Adani credit profiles from the Hindenburg report, but S&P downgraded its outlook to "negative" on two of the group's listed entities.
- 'Maliciously mischievous' -
According to Hindenburg Research, Adani has artificially boosted the share prices of its units by funnelling money into the stocks through offshore tax havens.
The group had benefited from what it called a "decades-long pattern" of government leniency, and that "investors, journalists, citizens and even politicians have been afraid to speak out for fear of reprisal".
Adani said it was the victim of a "maliciously mischievous" reputational attack and issued a 413-page statement on Sunday that it asserted showed Hindenburg's claims were "nothing but a lie".
Hindenburg said in response Adani had failed to answer most of the questions raised in its report.
Analysts say the turmoil has hurt India's image just as it seeks to woo overseas investors away from China.
India's central bank has asked lenders for details of their exposure to the Adani Group -- whose interests include ports, telecoms, airports, media and coal, oil and solar power -- Bloomberg reported, citing unidentified sources.
Adani said in his interview Friday only 32 percent of his firms' loans were owed to Indian banks, with almost half their debt obtained through international bonds.