Alibaba’s founder and China’s richest man Jack Ma has gone missing after he publicly criticised China’s financial system and called for reforms.
The 56-year-old billionaire, dubbed “China’s Steve Jobs”, has now not been seen in public for several weeks and has not tweeted for nearly three months.
Ma was also absent from the final episode of Africa’s Business Heroes, a talent show which he created and regularly appeared in and is run by the Jack Ma Foundation, due to an unspecified “schedule conflict”.
It comes after he made a “fiercely critical” speech at the Bund summit in Shanghai in which he slammed China’s financial regulatory system, accusing traditional lenders of having a “pawn shop” mentality and calling for change.
Chinese officials reacted swiftly to the criticism launching investigations, fines and clampdowns on Ma’s numerous businesses, causing Alibaba’s shares to drop more than 25 per cent since October wiping more than $10 billion off of its market value.
This began in November when the Chinese government effectively blocked Ant Financial, a fintech company founded by Ma and 33 per cent owned by Alibaba, from launching a record breaking $37 billion IPO on the Shanghai and Hong Kong stock exchanges.
Chinese authorities summoned Ant Group’s key executives, including Ma, to a meeting in which they were told Ant’s online lending business would face far tighter scrutiny for online micro-lending in a bid to rein in rising debt levels, informing the company it would need to abide by these rules in order to list just days before the IPO.
A day later, both the Hong Kong and Shanghai stock exchanges informed told Ant that “changes in the financial technology regulatory environment” would result in the company “not meeting the conditions for listing”, effectively suspending the IPO.
Weeks later Alibaba was slapped with a 500,000 yuan (£57,000) fine for failing to submit relevant paperwork during an acquisition deal.
This was understood to be the government’s opening gambit in a wider campaign to limit the dominance of such tech giants, and while the fine was minuscule in terms of the company’s actual revenues it provided a clear signal of tighter regulations looming.