(PTI) George Soros, who is in the eye of the storm over his remarks against Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the Adani issue, is an Hungarian-born American financier, philanthropist, and activist whose success as an investor made him one of the wealthiest men in the world. He is also known as a powerful and influential supporter of liberal social causes.
In a speech at the Munich Security Conference on Thursday, the billionaire philanthropist said he believes the turmoil at Gautam Adani's business empire may weaken Prime Minister Narendra Modi's hold on the government, a statement which was strongly contested by the BJP as an attack on Indian democracy.
Who is George Soros?
With a net worth of USD 8.5 billion, Soros is the founder of Open Society Foundations, which gives grants to groups and individuals that promote democracy, transparency and freedom of speech.
Born in Budapest in 1930 into a prosperous Jewish family, early life of Soros was disrupted by the Nazis' arrival in Hungary in 1944. The family split up and used false papers to avoid being sent to concentration camps. They changed their name from 'Schwartz' to 'Soros' to camouflage their Jewish identity. In 1947 they moved to London.
He put himself through the London School of Economics working as a railway porter and waiter, according to encyclopedia Britannica.
Soros studied philosophy under Karl Popper at the LSE only to abandon plans to become a philosopher. Investment banking attracted him and he joined the London merchant bank Singer & Friedlander.
In 1956 he moved to New York City, where he worked initially as an analyst of European securities and rapidly made his mark. He opened his first hedge fund, Double Eagle, in 1969. In 1973, he started Soros Fund Management (later Quantum Endowment Fund), a hedge fund that subsequently spawned a range of associated companies, and went on to become one of the most successful investors in the history of the United States.
His daring investment decisions caused the funds to grow rapidly, but not all his gambles succeeded. He correctly foresaw the worldwide stock market crash of October 1987, but wrongly predicted that Japanese stocks would fall hardest of all.
As a celebrated hedge fund tycoon, he managed client money in New York from 1969 to 2011.
Hits and Misses
In 1992, Soros shorted the British pound and reportedly made a profit of USD 1 billion. He sold billions of pounds during the days preceding the British government devaluing the pound sterling in September that year. Much of it was on borrowed money. Afterward Soros bought back pounds, repaid the money he had borrowed, and made a killing, according to Britannica.
He became known as the man who broke the Bank of England.
Two years later, his instincts appeared to fail him -- at least temporarily -- as he speculated that the dollar would rise in value against the Japanese yen. Instead, the dollar fell all year, and he lost hundreds of millions on a single day.
Although he denied involvement in speculative attacks on the Thai baht in 1997, Soros's name was linked with the financial crisis that swept South East Asia the following year. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad singled out Soros for the decline of the ringgit.
In December 2002 a French court convicted Soros of insider trading for a 1988 stock deal involving financial services company Société Générale, and was fined 2.2 million euros (USD 2.9 million).
Facing new federal regulations concerning hedge funds, Soros announced in July 2011 that the Quantum Endowment Fund would no longer manage the money of outside investors. Instead, it would only handle the assets of Soros and his family.
Philanthropy and political activism
Soros established a philanthropic organisation called Open Society Foundations in 1984 by using parts of his wealth.
According to his website, "he has given away more than USD 32 billion of his personal fortune" to fund the Open Society Foundations' work around the world.
He has been accused of using his wealth and influence to shape politics and funding regime change. In 2020, he pledged USD 1 billion to fund a new university network to tackle the spread of nationalism.
Just like Modi, he has been critical of Chinese President Xi Jinping and former US President Donald Trump.
In 2020, Soros slammed the Modi government while addressing an event at World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, saying nationalism was making headway and the "biggest setback" was seen in India.
"The biggest and most frightening setback occurred in India where a democratically elected Narendra Modi is creating a Hindu nationalist state, imposing punitive measures on Kashmir, a semi-autonomous Muslim region, and threatening to deprive millions of Muslims of their citizenship," he had said.
On Thursday, he said Modi would "have to answer questions" from foreign investors and Parliament on allegations the Adani group is facing.
Adani group has been under severe pressure since US short-seller Hindenburg Research on January 24 accused it of accounting fraud and stock manipulation, allegations that the conglomerate has denied as "malicious", "baseless" and a "calculated attack on India".
While listed companies of the group lost over USD 125 billion in market value in three weeks, opposition parties inside and outside Parliament attacked the BJP government for the meteoric rise of the ports-to-energy conglomerate. Stocks of most group firms have risen in the last couple of days.
In the US, he has long been one of the Democratic Party's most generous donors and poured USD 125 million into a super PAC ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.
Soros donated USD 100 million to Human Rights Watch in 2010.