Alibaba founder Jack Ma is hiding in Tokyo, reports say

Billionaire Jack Ma is believed to have been hiding in Tokyo with his family during Beijing’s crackdown on the country’s star tech companies and its most powerful and wealthy businessmen.

Ma, the founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba who until the tech crackdown was China’s richest person, has rarely been seen in public since criticizing Chinese regulators’ attitude towards tech companies at a summit in Shanghai two years ago.

Aside from a 48-second online appearance early last year, described by one analyst as akin to a “hostage video”, a brief trip to the Netherlands and the 88-meter superyacht Zen Ma was spotted mooring off the Spanish island of Mallorca last summer, the 58-year-old has maintained a low profile living outside his native China.

On Tuesday, the Financial Times, which is owned by Japanese media company Nikkei, revealed that Ma recently lived in Japan.

Citing unnamed sources, the newspaper said the former English teacher turned tech superstar has been living in Tokyo with his family for nearly six months. He spent his time mixing business and pleasure with visits to onsen (hot springs) and ski resorts in the Japanese countryside as well as regular trips to the United States and Israel.

Ma, whose net worth more than halved from nearly $50bn to $21.7bn (£18bn) as regulators targeted actions against his massive Chinese tech empire, reportedly kept his public activities to a minimum, bringing his personal and chief security details with him during his stay, which included attending a handful of private clubs, one of which is known to be popular with wealthy Chinese.

Alibaba has become a lightning rod for the crackdown on big tech after Ma, famously outspoken and eccentric, accused regulators of stifling innovation.

His comments reportedly infuriated President Xi Jinping, who is now facing protests over China’s zero Covid policy, and Ma then disappeared from the public eye for three months.

Chinese regulators have moved to block the $34 billion IPO of Alibaba’s online payment subsidiary Ant Group, which would have been the biggest stock offering in history.

Beijing has also ordered Alibaba to sell off some of its media assets, including Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, as the government cracks down on the growing public influence held by the country’s sprawling tech conglomerates such as Alibaba and Tencent.

Months later, Alibaba was fined a record $2.8 billion for anti-competitive practices, signaling an end to regulatory hostilities against the company, even though it was still being forced to comply with a program of “full rectification”.

Last week, it emerged that China’s central bank, which regulates the financial sector, was set to impose a fine of more than $1 billion on Ant Group. The People’s Bank of China has been leading a regulatory overhaul of the company since 2020. Reuters said the fine could be the first step for Ant to obtain a financial holding company license and reinvigorate its IPO plans.

Day-to-day management of Ma’s technology interests in China is now mostly delegated to a new generation of executives.

In August, Japan’s Softbank took a historic step by selling its 23.7% stake in Alibaba to 14.6%, for $34 billion. Its chief executive, Masayoshi Son, who invested $20 million in Alibaba in 2000 in a move that helped bolster the Japanese investment firm’s global credentials in technology, took the decision after the global tech stock sell-off resulted in its record conglomerate reports. losses.

Alibaba did not respond to a request for comment.

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