On August 15, the London-based news organisation, The Guardian, published an “exclusive” story on arguably one of the most controversial corporations in India – the Adani Group. It was one of two stories on the group they ran that day.
The story claimed, with documentary evidence, that the Adani Group allegedly siphoned off up to Rs 1,500 crore through shell enterprises controlled by chairman and founder Gautam Adani’s elder brother, Vinod Adani. These are not new allegations, the Economic Times ran a story in January 2014 reporting that the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) had formally opened a case for alleged ‘over-valuation’ of capital equipment for power projects. ET spoke to multiple sources and claimed that more than Rs 2,000 crore had been “siphoned off “.
The group allegedly overvalued the equipment by 400 per cent, as per the DRI investigation. A subsidiary company called PMC projects procured the equipment and subcontracted the work to a Dubai-based company called Electrogen Infra FZE. This company bought the equipment from a company called Hyundai Heavy Industries in South Korea at US$65 million. But the same consignment was sold to PMC for US$260 million.
More than three years later, this latest piece by Michael Safi, The Guardian’s South Asia correspondent, reiterates much of the ET story, but with additional documentary evidence. However, the Guardian piece categorically stated that Hyundai Heavy Industries was unaware of any illegality in the transaction.
That the Adani Group is in talks with the Australian government to build the world’s largest coal mine in Queensland is no secret. The controversial Carmichael mine project is already mired in legal challenges due to possible adverse environmental impact (due to its proximity to the Great Barrier Reef marine park), but that may not be the only hurdle that the Adani Group have to jump.
This investigation is looming over them as they wait for the approval of US$700 million in “public money” from Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF). And with that in mind, The Guardian stated:
“The Guardian is publishing excerpts from the DRI file in the interests of ensuring Naif, as well as the public, have access to as much relevant information as possible in assessing whether Adani or linked companies would be suitable recipients of public money.”
‘Adani’- naam hi kaafi hai
It might be easier to take the Amit Shahs and Narendra Modis of the country to task than the Ambanis and Adanis. There has been an eerie silence in the media right after this story was published except at a few digital news organisations such as The Wire.in, Scroll.in and The Quint.
Yesterday’s pink papers — ET, Business Standard, Financial Express and Mint— did not even curate the story let alone highlight excerpts from the documents pertaining to the DRI and ED investigation which is now in the public domain, thanks to The Guardian. Almost every news organisation chose to completely ignore the story. Other than poring over yesterday’s print editions in Delhi and Mumbai, we also ran a Google search for the story, but found it wasn’t curated by Indian media online either.
Ironically, Mint carried a piece headlined “How shell companies are used in black money creation, laundering” but mysteriously skipped the story on Adani. Meanwhile, the FE carried a PTI copy on Adani, “Adani Group managed DPCL to give Rs 20 lakh each to workers killed in mishap”.
Curiously, even ET, the paper that first carried the story turned a blind eye to The Guardian’s report. Before cries of censorship, or self-censorship ring out, we at Newslaundry felt we should reach out to the papers as to why they felt this was not a story worth covering.
Here is the list of questions that went out to all the major news organisations:
1. The Guardian story, on the basis of Income Tax customs intelligence documents, reveals an alleged Rs 15-bn fraud. Do you feel this story, involving one of India’s largest corporate houses, merits a follow-up or is worth picking up for your paper?
2. In the age of web journalism, your organisation runs many stories aggregated/curated from other websites. However, The Guardian story does not feature on your website. Do you think the story detailing the Indian customs intelligence allegations of Adani embezzling around Rs 1,500 crore to offshore accounts merits at least an online post?
3. Could you explain the editorial reasons for not giving space to the Guardian story either on your website or in the newspaper. Did the legal notice against former Economic and Political Weekly’s editor Paranjoy Guha Thakurta have any bearing on the decision?
This piece will be updated if and when they choose to respond.
The author can be contacted on Twitter @shrutimenon10.
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that an Adani Group company had sent a legal notice to the then Economic and Political Weekly editor Paranjoy Thakurta and had not filed a defamation suit as mentioned earlier.