China’s 4th richest man, Jack Ma, billionaire founder of China’s Amazon-alternative Alibaba, has not been seen in public in over two months after he made a comment in October calling for China to reform its financial systems.
Yahoo Finance reported speculation that Ma is missing after he gave an Oct. 24 speech in Shanghai in which he said, “Today’s financial system is the legacy of the Industrial Age. We must set up a new one for the next generation and young people. We must reform the current system.”
Fox Business reported Ma also said Chinese regulators had a “pawnshop mentality” that was hampering innovation. Ma’s comments reportedly irritated Chinese financial regulators, including some who attended the speech. Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan also attended the speech.
Ma’s net worth peaked earlier this year above $60 billion, but has since dropped. The Bloomberg Billionaire Index now estimates Ma’s net worth at about $50 billion, making him the fourth richest Chinese billionaire.
After making the controversial remarks, Ma missed out on the finale of his own talent show, Africa’s Business Heroes, a contest between budding African entrepreneurs. Ma was set to help judge the finale, but his appearance was canceled over a “schedule conflict” and an Alibaba executive replaced him for the episode. His image was also removed from the show’s website.
Since his own critical remarks, Alibaba and Ant Group, the financial services company Ma created as a spin-off of Alibaba, have come under Chinese government scrutiny. Alibaba now faces an antitrust investigation and China suspended Ant Group’s initial public offering and ordered the business to restructure.
Sources within Alibaba told Fox Business that Ma has not been detained or gone missing, but is “laying low” after the critical October speech and the subsequent actions against his businesses.
Speculation about Ma’s current whereabouts are particularly concerning given past high profile disappearances of Chinese figures who have criticized their government. In March, Chinese real estate tycoon Ren Zhiqiang went missing after writing an essay in which he called Chinese leader Xi Jinping a power-hungry “clown” over his handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
Over the summer, Ren reemerged and now faces prosecution in China. China’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) said Ren was expelled from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for “violations of party discipline and the law.” CCDI said “used his power for personal gain, wining and dining on public funds in violation of regulations,” while some critics say Ren is being targeted for his criticism of Xi.
Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai was also recently charged with “colluding with foreign forces” after calling on foreign governments to sanction China over its recent legislative takeover of Hong Kong.