The Chinese tech billionaire behind Asia’s version of Amazon has reportedly not been seen in public for more than two months after falling foul of President Xi Jinping.
Jack Ma, one of China’s most successful and outspoken tycoons, criticised the country’s ‘pawnshop’ financial regulators and state-owned banks in an incendiary speech in Shanghai in October.
He called for reform of a system that ‘stifled business innovation’ and likened global banking regulations to an ‘old people’s club’.
The speech angered the Chinese government, which viewed Ma’s criticisms as an attack on the authority of the Communist Party, and led to its extraordinary clampdown on Ma’s business activities.
In November, officials in Beijing ‘dressed down’ Ma and suspended the blockbuster $37billion initial public offering of his Ant Group on the direct order of President Xi, the Wall Street Journal reports.
They then advised Ma to remain in China before launching an anti-monopoly investigation into Ma’s Alibaba Group Holding on Christmas Eve, according to Bloomberg. Beijing also ordered Ma’s financial tech company Ant Group to scale back its operations.
Ma then mysteriously disappeared from his Dragons’ Den-style TV show Africa’s Business Heroes just before the November final, while his photo was scrubbed from the show’s judging panel webpage.
A spokesperson for Alibaba told the Financial Times that Ma could no longer be part of the judging panel ‘due to a schedule conflict’.
But weeks before the final, Ma tweeted that he ‘couldn’t wait’ to meet the contestants. There has been no activity since then on the father-of-three’s Twitter account, one that had regularly seen several tweets a day.
Beijing has a history of ruthless action against its internal critics and in March a property tycoon disappeared after he called President Xi a ‘clown’ for his handling of the coronavirus crisis.
Friends of Ren Zhiqiang said they could not contact him and six months later he was sentenced to 18 years in prison after he ‘voluntarily and truthfully confessed’ to various crimes of corruption.
Xian Jianhua, a billionaire financier, was snatched from a Hong Kong hotel in 2017 and taken to the mainland.
He is said to remain under house arrest more than three years later, with no official word of his location.
The anti-monopoly investigation caused Alibaba’s shares to drop by a quarter since their peak shortly after the October speech, wiping more than $10billion from Ma’s paper fortune.
It knocked Ma into third place on the list of China’s richest people, behind Pinduoduo chief executive Colin Huang and Tencent Holdings’ Pony Ma Huateng.
Ma now has an estimated current net worth of $63.1billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
Source: Daily Mail