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Chinese billionaire Jack Ma, famous for his love of the spotlight, hasn’t been seen in public in over two months following Beijing’s aggressive crackdown on his Alibaba business empire.
The celebrated entrepreneur was slated to appear as a star judge on the season finale of Africa’s Business Heroes, a reality TV show created by his own philanthropic organization. But Ma dropped out of the appearance and the show’s broadcast was postponed, the Financial Times was the first to report. Ma’s image and name, previously the program’s biggest selling point, have since been removed from promotional materials related to the finale.
According to the FT, Alibaba said, “Mr. Ma could no longer be part of the finale” because of a “scheduling conflict.” He was replaced on the judging panel by Alibaba co-founder Lucy Peng.
The celebrated entrepreneur’s retreat from the public eye in China follows an official fall from grace that has been swift and stunning. Formerly known for his cozy government connections and rare outspokenness, Ma has found himself on the receiving end of a sudden reassessment of his celebrated tech conglomerate’s reach and power.
The trouble began in early November when Beijing canceled the IPO of Alibaba’s fintech behemoth Ant Financial, which was set to raise $34 billion in the biggest stock-market debut in history. The sudden regulatory halt came after Ma gave a speech criticizing China’s regulators and state-owned banks for their backwardness. His remarks are said to have infuriated Beijing’s party brass, leading Chinese president Xi Jinping to personally order an end to Ant’s offering.
The clouds darkened further for Ma and Alibaba in late December when Chinese regulators issued a bluntly worded set of statements indicating they would be launching an antitrust investigation into Alibaba’s flagship e-commerce business, as well as enforcing new rules constraining Ant’s business activities. Government investigators were reported to have entered Alibaba’s headquarters in Hangzhou shortly after.
Alibaba’s shares, which are traded on both the New York Stock Exchange and in Hong Kong, plummeted 13 percent and 15 percent, respectively. Ma’s personal wealth has tumbled by $12 billion, from $62 billion to $50.9 billion since November, according to Bloomberg. He is now estimated to be China’s third-richest individual, after dominating the list for years.
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