Last week, when it became apparent that Jack Ma had failed to turn up for a recent taping of Africa’s Business Heroes, a TV program he created and was known to be passionate about, analysts, investors, and the financial press began to wonder: Where is Jack?
The Financial Times was among the first to notice that showrunners for the TV program, a talent contest for entrepreneurs, had replaced Ma as a judge on the show in November, shortly before filming its finale. The program has yet to air, but producers have removed Ma’s photograph from its website, and the program’s promotional material conspicuously avoids all mention of him. Ma’s abrupt disappearance from the TV show has drawn scrutiny because it came days after he delivered a now-infamous speech to the Bund Summit in Shanghai. In his remarks to the gathering, which included China’s most powerful financial regulators, a slew of senior central bankers, and executives from some of the nation’s largest state-owned banks, Ma bluntly derided Chinese regulators for being too risk-averse, stifling innovation, and clinging to a “pawnshop” mentality in overseeing China’s financial system.
Retribution was swift. Officials summoned Jack Ma and senior executives from Ant Group, China’s leading mobile payments platform and an Alibaba spinoff, to Beijing for questioning. Days later, Beijing vetoed Ant’s initial public offering on exchanges in Hong Kong and Shanghai a dual listing that promised to take in $37 billion, the richest IPO listing in corporate history. The Wall Street Journal has reported that orders to call off Ant’s listing came directly from Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Ma has not been seen in public since. His disappearance is reminiscent of past instances in which Beijing has detained business executives without warning for what it sees as impropriety.
An Alibaba spokesperson said that Ma couldn’t attend the taping of Africa’s Business Heroes because of a “schedule conflict.” Neither Alibaba nor Ant has issued any press statements regarding Ma’s whereabouts or regulatory filings on his status. And earlier today CNBC’s David Faber reported that Ma is not missing, adding “what I can tell you is that he’s very likely in Hangzhou, where Alibaba is headquartered, and is being less-visible, purposefully…but that doesn’t mean that he’s missing.”
Faber further revealed that Ma “hasn’t been captured, he hasn’t been taken and there’s no expectation that the government is going to move on him in some way.”
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