Reports have emerged in recent days that Jack Ma, the billionaire entrepreneur and enigmatic co-founder and CEO of Alibaba Group (NYSE:BABA), hasn't been seen in public and hasn't posted in social media since late October. Ma also failed to make an anticipated appearance as a judge on a talent show he created, Africa's Business Heroes, a reality program featuring African entrepreneurs competing for $1.5 million in prize money.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the timing of his reported absence coincides with the planned initial public offering (IPO) of Ant Group, Alibaba's financial technology (fintech) arm. The digital finance company was set to raise a record $37 billion before it was unceremoniously pulled after Ma made a speech critical of the China's regulation of the banking industry.
The Shanghai Stock Exchange issued a statement regarding the suspended IPO, saying, "Recently, your company's actual controller, chairman, and general manager have been jointly summoned and interviewed by the relevant regulatory authorities."
China's banking watchdog group also called Ant executives to appear before a hearing to emphasize the country's increasingly strict financial regulations.
Shortly thereafter, China's State Administration for Market Regulation, the agency that sets business standards and regulations, launched an antitrust investigation into Alibaba and Ant for "suspected monopolistic conduct."
Some view these developments as a rebuke from the Chinese government for a speech given by Ma in late October. At the Bund Financial Summit, he criticized the regulation of the country's banking system, comparing the rules to an "old people's club," saying the country must abandon "the pawnshop mentality of banks."
This isn't the first such executive disappearance. Ren Zhiqiang, a former top executive of state-controlled property developer Huayuan Real Estate Group, was reported missing last March after writing an essay that referred China's President, Xi Jinping, as a "clown." In fact, Zhiqiang had been arrested and later convicted and sentenced to 18 years in prison on corruption charges.