Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma has reportedly gone missing for over two months following his controversial speech in October 2020.
The Chinese billionaire has not made any public appearance since November last year, with which the mystery around his whereabouts has only deepened.
Tongues started wagging when Ma didn't appear in the final episode, aired in November, of his own talent show, 'Africa's Business Heroes', which gives budding African entrepreneurs an opportunity to compete to win $1.5 million.
The 56-year-old beleaguered billionaire was then replaced by Lucy Peng, an Alibaba executive, to judge the show and according to the company's spokesperson, Ma couldn't make it because of his hectic schedule, the Financial Times reported.
However, his removal from the event's webpage and a promotional video which aired without Ma raised many eyebrows. The deepening puzzle around his disappearance comes at a time when Chinese authorities have increased scrutiny of his business empire, including Alibaba's affiliate Ant Group after Ma criticised China's regulation system last October.
The billionaire, who is quite media-savvy, has not made any public appearance since the suspension of ANT's IPO. What could have been a phenomenal market debut for Ma's ANT Group, ended up in a fracas after his virulent attack on the Chinese financial system.
Ma's wrangle with China's authoritarian regime is said to have led to its crackdown down on his businesses.
Talking about the genesis of it all, the Chinese billionaire, in a speech on October 24, critiqued China's "pawnshop financial regulators and state-owned banks." Calling for reform in the country's regulatory system, Jack Ma blamed it for stifling business innovation and likened China's global banking regulations to an "old people's club."
"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," he said in the speech. As per a report in the Wall Street Journal, officials in Beijing chided Ma and suspended ANT Group's IPO on the direct order of President Xi in November.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg reported that he was advised to remain in China following which an anti-monopoly probe was initiated in Ma's Alibaba Group Holding on Christmas Eve.
The investigation led to the company's shares drop by a quarter since their peak soon after Ma's October speech, wiping over $10 billion from his fortune. This resulted in him falling to third place on the list of China's richest people. Ma's current net worth is estimated at $63.1 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
The Chinese regime also ordered ANT Group to scale back its operations, asking it to redress the company's insurance, lending, and wealth management services.
Alibaba is potentially the world's largest e-commerce company with billions of dollars in turnover and millions of users.
The e-commerce giant is Asia's "most valuable corporation," according to the news agency. Several other Chinese tech giants have also come under tight scrutiny of regulators, losing hundreds of billions of dollars in market value.