Jack Ma’s Public Absence Fuels Speculation of Chinese Clampdown

Chinese business magnate Jack Ma has been out of public view for more than two months, fueling speculation among reporters and on social media that he has been silenced by his country’s political and government leadership, CNBC reported Monday.

Ma, 56, the founder of the Alibaba conglomerate, is considered by Forbes as China’s richest man, worth an estimated $58 billion making him the 20th wealthiest person in the world.

He hasn’t been seen publicly since Oct. 24, when during a speech in Shanghai at the Bund Summit he suggested reforming the country’s financial system, accusing Chinese banks of a “pawnshop mentality,” Time reported.

He reportedly was summoned by Chinese officials for questioning on Nov. 2 and, the following day, a planned $37 billion initial public offering of his Alibaba financial technology subsidiary, Ant Financial, was cancelled by the country’s regulators.

In December, China launched an antitrust probe into the Alibaba Group as part of its crackdown on anticompetitive behavior in China’s internet world.

In a lesser substantive move, but noticed nonetheless, he was replaced as a judge for a business talent television show, “Africa’s Business Heroes,” last week, according to the Financial Times.

An Alibaba spokesman told Reuters it was due to a scheduling conflict.

“I think he’s been told to lay low,” the chairman of Beijing-based tech consultancy BDA China, Duncan Clark, told CNBC. “This is a pretty unique situation, more linked to the sheer scale of Ant and the sensitivities over financial regulation.”

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