Adani has spread its use of offshore tax havens to its Australian solar projects, providing another avenue that could allow the wealthy Indian family behind the transnational to legally minimise tax paid on income from local operations.
Six companies linked to Adani’s renewables business, which chairman Gautam Adani wants to make the biggest in Australia by 2022, were registered with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission on 3 August.
The companies all have Australian-based Adani executives as directors. But they fall into two groups – three companies in each – which follow a markedly different path to their ultimate owners.
One trail leads back to Adani Enterprises, the stockmarket-listed company in India which is vying to build Australia’s largest coalmine, and in which the Adani family are the major shareholders.
The other bypasses the public company in India entirely, leading back to the Adani family via privately owned companies based in the Cayman and British Virgin islands, recognised tax havens.
The companies were registered a month before the energy giant said it would proceed with “one of the world’s most advanced solar energy plants” at Rugby Run near Moranbah, the largest of three plants Adani proposes in central Queensland and South Australia.
Gautam Adani trumpeted the group’s Australian solar ambitions when announcing a power purchasing agreement for Rugby Run with an unnamed but “significant power retailer”.
“We are the largest generator of solar energy in India and we aim to replicate that in Australia,” he said.
Adani bought Rugby Run – a former cattle property once earmarked as a rail thoroughfare for transporting coal from its contentious Carmichael mine – for $1 on 9 June last year from Queensland beef barons the Acton family, transfer documents show.
The site gives its name to one of three companies that signal the start of the tax haven trail from the Australian solar business: Adani Rugby Run Operations Pty Ltd, Adani Renewable Operations Pty Ltd and Adani Renewable Operations Holdings Pty Ltd.
All three companies have a parent company in Singapore, Global Renewable Energy Holding Pte Ltd, which was incorporated in January with Vinod Shantilal Adani as sole director.
Singapore company filings show Global Renewable Energy Holding Pte Ltd is owned by Atulya Resources Ltd in the Cayman Islands. Atulya Resources is in turn owned by ARFT Holding Ltd in the British Virgin Islands. Documents held by the Singapore corporate regulator disclose that “the Adani Family” is an ultimate shareholder of ARFT Holding Ltd.
Back in Australia, the other three companies registered in August were Adani Renewable Assets, Adani Renewable Asset Holdings and Adani Rugby Run.
They are held by Adani Global Pte Ltd in Singapore, which is held by Adani Global Ltd in Mauritius, in turn owned by the public company Adani Enterprises Ltd in India.
Adam Walters, the principal researcher for Energy Resource Insights, who uncovered the new tax haven links, said Adani’s use of tax havens and parallel company structures was entirely legal.
But he said they could enable the Adani family to generate income from operating the solar farms, via agreements with the public Indian parent company that owned the assets. These profits could then be channelled to the Adani family via the Cayman and British Virgin islands, which would have favourable tax implications for them, Walters said.
“Rather than benefit because of their shareholdings in listed companies in India where they have to pay lots of tax, they could benefit via the British Virgin Islands,” he said.
“What could well be the case is the listed companies have got the money behind them, they can build the things, but then the profits can be generated in the family-owned businesses.”
Walters said this was a pattern suggested elsewhere in Adani’s corporate structures around Australian mine and rail projects.
It arose when Adani Mining had an opportunity to dispose of a future liability worth billions, in the form of a $2 a tonne royalty deed held by the original owner of the Carmichael mine site, Linc Energy.
When a distressed Linc agreed to offload the deed for $150m in 2014, it was not Adani Mining that bought it. Instead, Adani Mining lent $150m to an Adani family-held trust, linked to the rail project, to snap it up.
“This means that the family could potentially receive over a billion dollars in the Caribbean even if the mine is unprofitable in Australia,” Walters said.
“Adani Mining, rather than spending $150m, now have an IOU on their balance sheet for $150m. In the short term, the company looks healthier than it actually is and in the longer term, if the mine does go ahead then the Adani family make the money.”
The trust that could enrich the family through coal royalties is held via the same tax haven companies as the solar companies.
The $150m was one of several multimillion-dollar loans in Australia by public Adani company subsidiaries to private Adani family-owned companies.
“If [the solar business] is the same as elsewhere, we know the Adani family has not actually put a single dollar into Australia – they’re inter-company loans to the family from the listed company,” Walters said.
He said there were another three trusts registered by Adani in Australia around the solar projects but “beneficial ownership of these remains unclear at this stage”.
The chief executive of Adani Mining, Jeyakumar Janakaraj, has dismissed any suggestion the Australian operations would be “hiding profits” via holding companies in tax havens.
“There is absolutely no implication of this, as everything that is being done in Australia or in India is transparent,” he told India’s Economic Times.
“We make regular filings to the tax offices and government authorities. This report is a desperate attempt by the activists who were not able to legally stall the [Carmichael] project or get the government to do it.
“This is their last attempt to hurt the goodwill we enjoy, but we are going ahead with the project as planned.”
The 175-megawatt plant would rate among Australia’s biggest solar projects, along with Adani’s proposed 100MW farm at Crinium Creek, also in central Queensland, and a 140MW far near Whyalla in South Australia. Adani is the largest solar generator in India.
Adani declined to comment on the company arrangements.
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