Jack Ma not missing, just laying low & likely in Hangzhou: CNBC journalist

The Chinese billionaire had given a speech in October 2020 that reportedly upset Chinese political officials.

Andrew Koay | January 06, 2021, 02:20 PM

Jack Ma, who has reportedly been missing for months, is supposedly lying low after drawing the ire of the Chinese government.

According to David Farber, a finance journalist at CNBC who has interviewed Ma multiple times, the Chinese billionaire is most likely in Hangzhou.

"He is being less visible purposefully," said Farber who cited a person familiar with the matter and added that it would be the case for "some time".

"He hasn't been captured. He hasn't been taken... There is no expectation that the government is going to move on him in some way."

Criticism of Chinese government

Farber pinpointed a speech that Ma gave on Oct. 24, 2020, as having triggered Ma's recent troubles.

The Alibaba founder had spoken at a summit in Shanghai, and criticised the Chinese regulatory system as stifling innovation and in need of reforms that would push growth.

"There’s no systemic financial risks in China because there’s no system in China,” Ma said, according to The Japan Times.

The comment by the 56-year-old sparked off a series of escalations, including senior Chinese political officials asking regulators for a thorough review of Ant Group, another Ma-founded business.

It culminated in the suspension of Ant Group's IPO by the Shanghai Stock Exchange less than two days before its listing in November 2020, reported Reuters.

Had it gone ahead, it was estimated that Ma would have added at least US$27 billion (S$35.6 billion) to his net worth.

Not seen since Oct. 2020

Ma has reportedly not made a public appearance in the months following his speech.

He was due to appear in the November finale of "Africa's Business Heroes", a television show created by Ma to give promising African entrepreneurs a shot at winning US$1.5 million to create their own business.

Instead, he was replaced as a judge by an Alibaba executive.

A spokesperson for Alibaba told Financial Times that the billionaire was unable to take part in the judging panel "due to a scheduling conflict".

As for Ant Group, Farber said any chance for an IPO would be "many months from now; perhaps this year."

"We'll see what happens with Ant, whether they go to a holding company structure of some kind and are able to piece back together their hopes for an IPO sometime."

The American journalist said he expected to hear from Ma again as well.

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