Greens to question Foreign Investment Review Board over Adani coal venture

Senate hearings to question alleged links between firm behind Queensland’s Abbot Point coal port, a Cayman Islands company and a $1bn rorts investigation

The Greens will use Senate hearings to question the Foreign Investment Review Board (Firb) about alleged links between Australia’s biggest proposed coal venture, a Cayman Islands company and an Indian businessman allegedly caught up in a $1bn invoice rorting investigation.

Allegations about the chain of companies that Indian coal giant Adani planned to house its stake in Queensland’s Abbot Point coal port have already prompted calls for an investigation by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (Asic).

But Asic has indicated it has limited scope to uncover the true owners of companies not listed on the Australian stock exchange, while Adani says the corporate transfer never went through.

The “sale” of the port stake by an Adani company listed in India to a privately held Singapore company for $232m was recorded two years ago on balance sheets but an annual report says one lender is yet to approve the transaction.

The sole director of the Singapore company, Abbot Point Port Holdings (APPH), a Fairfax Media report alleges, is a member of the Adani family, Vinod Shantilal Shah, who was named in an Indian criminal investigation into the alleged siphoning of $1bn from Adani group companies to offshore accounts.

Shah, also known as Vinod Shantilal Adani, was named last year in the investigation by an Indian “black money” unit into the alleged invoicing rort. According to Fairfax, Adani company officials have denied any wrongdoing over that case.

APPH is ultimately owned by a private Adani family company registered in the Cayman Islands, a known tax haven, Fairfax reported. It is not illegal for the family to register a company there.

Queensland Greens senator Larissa Waters has written to Asic asking that the apparent discrepancy between the recorded sale to APPH and Adani’s advice to Australian authorities that the port is still owned by its Indian-listed company “be resolved urgently”.

“If environmental damage or malfeasance were to occur in Australia, it is unclear whether the broader Adani group could be held liable for actions of its subsidiaries,” Waters said.

Asic is still considering Waters’ request but a spokeswoman told Guardian Australia: “Asic only has access to very limited information about the ownership of proprietary companies and public companies that are not listed.”

“The statutory provisions granting access to Asic and others to more extensive information about beneficial ownership only apply to listed companies,” she said.

An Adani spokesman did not dispute the allegations about the directorship and ownership of APPH and indicated that the coal giant still planned to transfer its Abbot Point stake to the Singapore company “subject to financier approval”.

“Adani has at all times said that it intends to proceed with the plan advised to the Bombay Stock Exchange, the Foreign Investment Review Board, and the North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation. The plan to effect the change to ownership remains subject to financier approval,” he said.

He added: “Adani’s projects in Australia will be developed and operated by Australian entities, registered under Australian law, responsive to Australian regulators, meeting all Australian obligations, and creating 10,000 direct and indirect Australian jobs. That has always been our commitment and remains the case.

“There will be a range of investors, shareholders and partners from all over the world, which is no surprise for such a large investment or, indeed, for a state and country that welcomes foreign investment – the lease and the projects more broadly will be Australian based and operated and changes to arrangements will always have to meet those disclosure and regulatory obligations,” he said.

“This is completely consistent with our desire to build a long-term future with Queensland that has seen the Adani family, and Adani listed entities, invest more than $3bn into this country in advancing mine, rail and port projects in Queensland.

“This is a significant economic contribution well in advance of anticipated returns, reflecting Adani’s confidence in the role Queensland will play in providing high quality energy to the world – including India – while delivering $22bn in taxes and royalties to be invested right back into frontline services in our state.”

Asked by Guardian Australia when Adani’s listed company balance sheets would reflect the true owner of the port, the company spokesman said it would “advise the exchange [in Bombay] once [the transaction] is completed”.

Vinod Adani is the elder brother of Gautam Adani, the public face of the Adani group who attended the G20 meeting last year.

There he met with former Queensland premier Campbell Newman, who announced hundreds of millions of dollars in government backing to help Adani open up the Galilee basin coalfields and expand Abbot Point.

That backing was withdrawn by the new Labor premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, who nevertheless this month listed a deal with Adani to allow its port project to proceed as the most important early achievement of her new government.

Asked if she had any concerns about the port ownership, Palaszczuk said: “I think if there are any concerns, people should refer that to the relevant authorities.”

She invited Waters to put her concerns to her in writing.

The Queensland government has already completed its assessment of Adani, which involved a due diligence report by state treasury and a referral to Firb.

Waters called on Palaszczuk to release the treasury report.

“These projects have massive implications for Queenslanders, especially the 69,000 people who are employed by a healthy reef, and state government’s ‘due diligence’ investigation must be made public,” she said.

“The Queensland government has also said that [Firb] has investigated Adani and the Greens will take the next opportunity in Senate estimates to ask the board about this.”

The next likely opportunity in Senate estimates is late May.

Both Liberal and Labor senators early this month blocked Waters’ motion calling for the federal government to “urgently establish” what entities controlled Abbot Point and the related Carmichael coalmine.

Waters said it was “incredibly frustrating that Labor refused to support the Greens’ motion the second time round, after we changed the wording to accommodate to their stated concerns”.

“It seems the opposition is just making up excuses about technicalities and the real reason they won’t support our motion is because the big mining companies have a hold over Labor, just like they do the government,” she said.


Joshua Robertson

The GuardianTramp

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