Chinese billionaire and Alibaba founder Jack Ma is suspected missing following reports that he has not made any public appearance in the last two months.
This comes amid his deepening conflict with the Chinese government.
Ma is considered one of China’s internet pioneers, building an ecommerce empire with Alibaba and a fintech giant with the Ant Group.
He was to appear as a judge in the final episode of his own talent show, ‘Africa’s Business Heroes’ but he did not turn up. Consequently, his photos were reportedly removed from the show’s website. The show provides African entrepreneurs the chance to compete for a slice of $1.5 million prize money.
“Due to a schedule conflict Mr Ma could no longer be part of the finale judge panel of Africa’s Business Heroes earlier this year (2020),” an Alibaba spokesperson was quoted as saying.
In recent months, Ma’s Ant Group has come under scrutiny after he delivered a controversial speech in Shanghai on October 24 in which he criticised China’s regulations for stifling innovation.
Chinese banks, he said, operated with a “pawnshop” mentality.
Several senior financial regulatory officials were furious at Ma’s criticism. The following month, Chinese officials reprimanded Ma and suspended Ant Group’s planned blockbuster $37-billion initial public offering (IPO).
State regulators also started compiling reports including one on how Ant had used digital financial products like Huabei, a virtual credit card service, to encourage poor and young people to build up debt, reports said.
In the past, there have been a few billionaires in China who suddenly disappeared.
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.