Speculation peaked recently after the 56-year-old founder also failed to appear as scheduled in the final episode of his own talent show, ‘Africa’s Business Heroes’. The show is aimed at giving budding African entrepreneurs a space to compete for a slice of US $1.5 million.
The Financial Times reported that he was replaced as a judge in the show’s finale, and his picture was also removed from the webpage. It also added that a promotional video was aired sans Ma.
Ma was apparently replaced by an Alibaba executive in the November final. The
Financial Times quoted an Alibaba spokesperson as saying that Ma was unable to take part on the judging panel “due to a schedule conflict”.
Ma’s fintech venture, Ant Group, has come under scrutiny by Beijing ever since he delivered a controversial speech in Shanghai on October 24. In his speech, he had criticised China’s regulation system for curbing innovation and compared global banking rules to an “old people’s club”.
“Today’s financial system is the legacy of the Industrial Age,” Ma was quoted as saying in the speech.
“We must set up a new one for the next generation and young people. We must reform the current system.”
Last week, China’s top market watchdog began investigation into alleged anti-competition practices by Alibaba. Local media also reported that the country has now laid out ‘rectification plan for his fintech venture Ant Group.
According to a report in
TechCrunch, the People’s Bank of China, the country’s central bank, “summoned Ant Group for regulatory talks on December 26th, announcing a sweeping plan for the fintech firm to ‘rectify’ its regulatory violations”.