In a most surprising turn for global business fraternity, Chinese billionaire and Alibaba Group founder Jack Ma is suspected to be missing following his mysterious disappearance from the public eye for over two months after Beijing’s aggressive crackdown on his business empire.
The country’s third-richest man was slated to appear as a star judge on the season finale of Africa’s Business Heroes, a reality TV show created by his own philanthropic organisation. However, he dropped out of the appearance and the show’s broadcast was postponed, reported Hollywood Reporter.
Formerly known for his government connections and rare outspokenness, Jack Ma’s trouble with the Chinese government began when he gave a speech criticising China’s regulators and state-owned banks for their ‘backwardness’.
In early November, Beijing cancelled the IPO of Ant Financial, while in late December, Chinese regulators announced that they would launch an antitrust investigation into Alibaba’s e-commerce business, as well as enforce new rules to curb Ant’s business activities. These new enforcements led to a decline in Alibaba’s shares and Jack Ma’s personal wealth.
According to a report by The New York Times, Jack Ma publicly castigated financial regulators for being obsessed with minimising risk and accused China’s banks of behaving like ‘pawnshops’ by lending only to those who could put up collateral.
Jack Ma’s public image has also drastically transformed following his remarks, with people calling him ‘villain’, ‘bloodsucking ghost’ and more.
Of late, China has been stepping up efforts to curb the influence of big tech companies like Alibaba and Tencent.
In November, China released draft regulations aimed at preventing these firms from colluding to share sensitive consumer data, forming agreements to block out smaller rivals and engaging in other anticompetitive behaviour, reported The Wall Street Journal.
In addition, a meeting of the CCP’s Politburo, chaired by Xi in early December pledged to strengthen antimonopoly efforts next year and to “prevent the disorderly expansion of capital”, a message seen as portending a larger crackdown on internet giants. Jack Ma is said to be a key target of these new policies.
In India, Alibaba has investments in payments company Paytm and its e-commerce arm Paytm Mall, food delivery start-up Zomato, online grocer BigBasket and online retailer Snapdeal, among others.
He had called for reform of a system that ‘stifled business innovation’ and likened global banking regulations to an ‘old people’s club’.
In November, officials in Beijing suspended the blockbuster $37billion initial public offering of his Ant Group on the direct order of President Xi.
Ma was advised to remain in China and an anti-monopoly investigation was launched into his Alibaba Group Holding on Christmas Eve.
Ma then mysteriously disappeared from his TV reality show just before the November final.
But weeks before the final, Ma tweeted that he ‘couldn’t wait’ to meet the contestants.