Mystery surrounds whereabouts of Chinese billionaire Jack Ma who vanished from own reality TV show

Mystery surrounds whereabouts of Chinese billionaire Jack Ma who vanished from own reality TV show

Louise Watt

·2-min read
 
 
Jack Ma criticised the country’s regulators and its state-owned banks in late October - Reuters
Jack Ma criticised the country’s regulators and its state-owned banks in late October – Reuters

Chinese billionaire Jack Ma, who hasn’t been seen in public for several weeks after criticising China’s financial regulatory system, has now disappeared as a judge on a TV talent show that he created.

Mr Ma was absent from the final of “The Apprentice”-style “Africa’s Business Heroes”, a show that offers budding African entrepreneurs the chance to compete for a share of US$1.5 million (£1.1 million) in prize money.  

Mr Ma was originally due to be part of the panel that judged contestants’ business ideas. 

But he was replaced as a judge by an executive from Alibaba, the ecommerce company that he founded, in the November final.

His photograph has also been taken down from the judging webpage and he was left out of a promotional video, according to the Financial Times, which also reported that broadcast of the final has been delayed until the spring.

The paper cited a spokesperson for Alibaba as saying that Mr Ma could no longer be part of the judging panel “due to a schedule conflict”. 

One of China’s most successful entrepreneurs, Mr Ma appears to have fallen foul of its leaders after he criticised the country’s regulators and its state-owned banks in late October.

In a speech in Shanghai, he called for reform of the regulatory system, which he said was stifling innovation.

About a week later, the Shanghai Stock Exchange ordered a US$37 billion initial public offering of Ant Group, a financial technology firm co-founded by Mr Ma, to be suspended. Mr Ma reportedly hasn’t been seen in public since then. 

In late December, Chinese authorities announced an investigation into Alibaba for suspected monopolistic behaviour, and ordered Ant Group to restructure its operations to meet regulatory guidelines. 

Chinese authorities are trying to tighten oversight of the country’s financial sector, but are also seen as wanting to rein in the huge influence of private tech giants. 

Mr Ma is a popular figure in China, and one of the country’s best-known businesspeople abroad. Formerly an English teacher, he founded Alibaba in 1999, which became China’s biggest online ecommerce company. He stepped down as the company’s chairman in 2019, but is still one of its largest shareholders.