Bako, John Chukwudi
Where Is Jack Ma? This is the question in everyone’s lips at the moment.
Jack Ma, The Chinese billionaire has been missing in action. The Alibaba founder has reportedly not been seen in public since October, the same time when he had hit out at the ruling Communist regime in China.
Speculation peaked recently after the 56-year-old founder also failed to appear in the final episode of his own talent show, ‘Africa’s Business Heroes’. The show is aimed at giving budding African entrepreneurs a space to compete for a US $1.5 million prize.
The Financial Times reported that he was replaced as a judge in the show’s finale, and his picture was also removed from the webpage. It also added that a promotional video, sans Ma, was aired.
Ma was apparently replaced by an Alibaba executive in the November final. The Financial Times quoted an Alibaba spokesperson as saying that Ma was unable to take part on the judging panel “due to a schedule conflict”.
I am honored to partner with HRH The Duke of Cambridge @KensingtonRoyal & other global leaders and organizations to… https://t.co/CoFwaV8oAb— Jack Ma (@JackMa)
Ma, who has over 612K followers on Twitter, last posted on the micro-blogging platform on October 10. In his tweet, he spoke of his partnership with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – Prince William and Kate – and their association with the Earthshot Prize that fetes climate change warriors.
Ma’s fintech venture, Ant Group, has come under scrutiny by Beijing ever since he delivered a controversial speech in Shanghai on October 24. In his speech, he had criticised China’s regulation system for curbing innovation and compared global banking rules to an “old people’s club”.
“Today’s financial system is the legacy of the Industrial Age,” Ma was quoted as saying in the speech.
“We must set up a new one for the next generation and young people. We must reform the current system.”
In December, China’s top market watchdog began investigation into alleged anti-competition practices by Alibaba. Local media also reported that the country has now laid out ‘rectification plan for his fintech venture Ant Group.
According to a report in TechCrunch, the People’s Bank of China, the country’s central bank, “summoned Ant Group for regulatory talks on December 26th, announcing a sweeping plan for the fintech firm to ‘rectify’ its regulatory violations”.
In India, Alibaba’s investments include payments firm Paytm and its e-commerce arm Paytm Mall, food delivery start-up Zomato, online grocer BigBasket, online retailer Snapdeal and logistics firm Xpressbees.
According to Business Today, there are fuelled speculations that one of the world’s richest men, Ma is either arrested or placed under house arrest. China has a track record of not revealing information on arrests of big personalities, so ’embracing supervision’ could well mean jail.
Jack Ma is ’embracing supervision’, Hong Kong-based The Asia Times has quoted Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily as saying. He has been ordered not to leave the country. The People’s Daily in a November piece also said Ma couldn’t take Alibaba to such heights without the Chinese government’s policies: “Ma Yun is savvy, but without the support of national policies, Ali will not be able to become a trillion business empire.”
Ma’s “horse” fell after Ma criticised China’s regulatory system in October 2020, saying it has a “pawnshop mentality” and that the company like AliPay was unsuitable for financial regulatory structure like that of China’s. Calling for reform in the country’s regulatory system, Jack Ma blamed it for stifling business innovation and likened China’s global banking regulations to an “old people’s club.”
It’s reported that Chinese authorities, unhappy over his tirade against them, pulled the plug citing Alibaba’s enormous growth and launched an ‘anti-monopoly’ probe against his company.
Another Chinese billionaire, JD.com’s Liu Qiangdong has also come under Chinese government’s “supervision”. Chinese regulators have increased scrutiny over the Qiangdong-led company whose digital company JD Digital is eying to go public in future.
Meanwhile, the investigation has led to a drop in Alibaba’s shares by a quarter since their peak, wiping over $10 billion from his fortune. This resulted in him falling to third place on the list of China’s richest people. Ma’s current net worth is estimated at $63.1 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.