Why billionaire Jack Ma ‘disappears’ while China investigating Alibaba

Mystery has deepened about the whereabouts of Chinese billionaire Jack Ma following reports that the Alibaba founder has not made any public appearance in the last two months.
January 04, 2021 | 16:03
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Why billionaire Jack Ma ‘disappears’ while China investigating Alibaba
Is the billionaire Jack Ma "missing"?. Photo: illustration

Rumors began to rise about the whereabouts of billionaire Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba Group, after the successful Chinese businessman suddenly disappeared from public view for more than two months.

First serious doubts about his whereabouts began when he failed to appear as a judge in the final episode of his own talent show, Africa’s Business Heroes. Ma was replaced by an Alibaba executive and according to an Alibaba spokesperson, this was due to his hectic schedule. However, the removal of Ma’s picture from the event's website raised eyebrows.

The mystery about the fate of the iconic billionaire comes at a time when Chinese authorities are tightening grip over his business empire, including the Ant Group, allegedly after in response to his criticism against China’s regulation system last October. Ma, who is quite a media-savvy public figure has not made any public appearance since the suspension of ANT’s IPO.

While experts like veteran investor Mark Mobius claimed the move was designed to curtail financial institutions from getting too big many viewed it as Beijing’s reaction to Ma for his opposition to the authority. The entire episode is further intriguing given that in the past, there have been a few billionaires in China who suddenly disappeared, said the cnbctv18.

Between 2016 and 2017, during China’s infamous anti-corruption drive, a number of billionaires went missing. While some reappeared, stating that they were ‘helping the authorities,’ others never returned. The most popular of them being Chinese-Canadian businessman Xiao Jianhua, owner of Tomorrow Holding, who was taken from his hotel room in Hong Kong by alleged Chinese security officers during the Chinese New Year celebrations of 2017. As per some reports, he is being held by authorities and will be brought to trial over the crimes of manipulating the stock market and offering bribes.

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Jack Ma, the co-founder and former executive chairman of Alibaba Group, a multinational technology conglomerate is speculated to be missing currently.

The Chinese tycoon came into conflict with the Chinese government after giving a speech in Shanghai back in October, last year.

As per a UK Telegraph report, Ma was supposed to be part of the judging panel on the show but was replaced by an Alibaba executive in the November final. In fact, his picture was also taken off the website. For the uninitiated, the talent show gives budding African entrepreneurs the chance to compete for a slice of US $1.5 million.

According to Financial Times, an Alibaba spokesperson said Ma was unable to take part in the judging panel "due to a schedule conflict." The 56-year-old billionaire hasn't been seen publicly after officials hit back at him following an October speech in which he complained at a business conference that China's regulators and state-run banks are hampering opportunities.

"Today’s financial system is the legacy of the Industrial Age," Ma said in the speech. "We must set up a new one for the next generation and young people. We must reform the current system," he had said.

Last month, it was reported that Ma's company Alibaba is being investigated by regulators on charges of monopolistic practices. “Acting on information, China’s State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) has started an investigation on Alibaba Group for alleged monopoly conduct including implementing an ‘exclusive dealing agreement’,” Xinhua, China’s official news agency, announced in a single-sentence statement.

Chinese regulators and Ma's Ant Group

In November last year, the Wall Street Journal reported that officials in Beijing reprimanded Ma and suspended the $37 billion initial public offering (IPO) of his Ant Group on the direct order of President Jinping. Ma was also advised to remain in China before launching an anti-monopoly investigation into his Alibaba Group Holding on Christmas Eve, according to Bloomberg.

An AP report stated that the moves were part of the Communist Party's efforts to curb the influence of tech companies as they move into the financial services sector during a time when Beijing is looking to reduce financial risks. Chinese regulators ordered Ant Group to rectify its businesses and comply with regulatory requirements amid increased scrutiny of anti-monopoly practices in the country’s internet sector.

Jack Ma Net Worth

It is worth adding that Jack Ma has slipped to third in China's rich list. Chief executive and founder of budget e-commerce marketplace Pinduoduo Colin Huang has overtaken Ma of Alibaba Group Holding and Tencent Holdings’ Pony Ma Huateng to become the country's second-richest person. According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Huang now has a current net worth of US $63.1 billion. While Pony Ma's net worth is $56.4 billion, Jack Ma trails at third position with a net worth of $50.6 billion.

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