Alibaba founder suspected to be missing after criticizing Chinese government
Chinese billionaire Jack Ma has not been seen in public for more than two months now, a development that has sparked questions about his whereabouts. Ma, the founder of behemoth Alibaba Group Holdings Ltd., was slated to appear for the finale of a reality TV show. His "disappearance" is being linked to the crackdown launched by President Xi Jinping's regime against Alibaba.
The celebrated entrepreneur, once known for being close to the Communist Party members, miffed many in power when in October he criticized regulators and state-owned banks. He got a quick reaction from Beijing. In November, the $34 billion initial public offering (IPO) in Shanghai and Hong Kong of Alibaba's Ant Financial was canceled, reportedly on the direct orders of Jinping.
"Today's financial system is the legacy of the Industrial Age. We must set up a new one for the next generation and young people. We must reform the current system," Ma had said. These words cost his company the biggest stock market debut in history.
The situation worsened last month when Chinese regulators launched an antitrust investigation into Alibaba, the biggest tech company in China. China's State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) probed Alibaba's modus operandi of forcing sellers to sign contracts, that didn't allow them to sell their products on any other platform. Further, the Chinese authorities ended 2020 by closing in on the Ant Group.
As per a Reuters report, Chinese regulators began assessing equity investments of Ant Group in a number of companies. The regulators were considering to direct Ant Group to divest a few of its investments if it was found creating unfair competition. The China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC), which led the probe, was looking into the Ant Group's investments in the last couple of years.
The crackdown, naturally, had an effect on Ma. As per Bloomberg, the wealth of the 56-year-old former English teacher reached a peak of $61.7 billion last year. But he lost nearly $11 billion after coming at odds with the Chinese administration. His fortune of $50.9 billion plummeted his position on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index — he took the 25th place.
Surprisingly, Ma, who loves the limelight, didn't appear as a star judge on Africa's Business Heroes, a TV show supported by his philanthropic organization. The broadcast had to be postponed, Ma's name was deleted from the promotional material of the finale, and Alibaba co-founder Lucy Peng filled in for him. Alibaba said Ma didn't appear because there were some scheduling conflicts.
Apparently, Alibaba's rivals have not been spared either. The shares of Tencent Holding Ltd. have dipped by almost 15% since early November and food delivery giant Meituan has also suffered after seeing a peak. Bruce Pang, head of macro and strategy research at China Renaissance Securities Hong Kong, said there are enough signals to suggest tech giants are on the radar of Chinese authorities.