One of China's richest men has gone missing from the talent show he created. Jack Ma, who is reportedly worth just shy of $50billion, has been replaced as a judge in the final of Africa’s Business Heroes.
The Alibaba Group co-founder's photo was removed from the website and he was left out of a promo video. Ma's absence from the final, which took place in November, came shortly after he criticised China’s regulators and its state-owned banks, the Financial Times reported.
A $37billion public offering of his company Ant Group was suspended after he made the speech. He has not been seen in public since. A spokesperson for Alibaba said: “Due to a schedule conflict Mr Ma could no longer be part of the finale judge panel of Africa’s Business Heroes earlier this year (2020).”
In his speech, Ma heavily criticized the “pawnshop mentality” of Chinese banks, and accused them of slowing down innovation. When Chinese president Xi Jinping heard about the remarks he personally ordered the suspension of the public offering, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Days later, China unveiled new antitrust rules which hugely devalued the company, before regulators conducted an anti-trust probe into Ant Group. Lucy Peng, an executive at Alibaba, has replaced Ma in the final, which is now due to be aired in the Spring.
A contestant on the show said: “There was something going on in China with Jack Ma or something, so (Lucy) also came in as well." As well as being China's second wealthiest person, Ma is one of the country's few international icons.
Last year he donated tens of millions of masks globally and donated 2,000 ventilators to New York hospitals. He has won plaudits online for interviews in which he speaks fluent English, and for letting his hair down in videos. On one memorable occasion, he was filmed dressed as Michael Jackson and performed a six-minute dance routine.