The Mail on Sunday

China ‘made billionair­e vanish’ after he dared to attack regime

- By Mark Hookham

CHINA’S leaders have been accused of delivering a chilling message that ‘nobody is bigger’ than the Communist Party after one of the country’s richest men vanished from the public eye.

Jack Ma was replaced as the public face of a TV talent show he created and has all but disappeare­d since making an incendiary speech criticisin­g the Beijing regime in October.

Billionair­e Mr Ma, founder of online giant Alibaba and digital payments firm Ant Group, sent shock waves through China when he criticised state-owned banks at a conference in Shanghai.

Those in the audience included Wang Qishan, President Xi Jinping’s right-hand man, and Yi Gang, the governor of China’s central bank.

Since then, the tycoon – worth an estimated £43 billion – has been targeted by the Beijing regime with probes and clampdowns. In November, a planned £26 billion stock market launch of Ant was scuppered by regulators, while an investigat­ion into allegation­s of ‘monopolist­ic practices’ at Alibaba – dubbed Asia’s Amazon – was launched on Christmas Eve.

This weekend, it emerged that Mr Ma, 56, was replaced as a judge in the final of Africa’s Business Heroes, a Dragons’ Den-style TV show created by Ma. The father-ofthree has also reportedly been advised by the regime against leaving the country.

Former UK diplomat and China expert Charles Parton last night said Mr Ma had ‘pushed the boundaries’ before but his remarks in Shanghai were ‘foolhardy’.

Founded in 1999, Alibaba is one of the world’s largest online retailers, but its shares have dropped by a quarter since the October speech, wiping more than £7 billion from Mr Ma’s paper fortune.

Raffaello Pantucci, senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute think-tank, said the Party has become ‘ increasing­ly concerned’ at the power wielded by China’s booming technology firms and ‘ the abrupt attack on Jack Ma has shown the limits of their patience’.

A spokesman for Alibaba last night said that Mr Ma had been unable to take part in the final of Africa’s Business Heroes, which took place in November, as a result of ‘a schedule conflict’.

 ??  ?? INCENDIARY SPEECH: Jack Ma criticised China’s bank system
INCENDIARY SPEECH: Jack Ma criticised China’s bank system

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