Jack Ma’s Ant IPO blocked after potential Xi rivals found to be among beneficiaries

Jack Ma, Chinese business magnate and investor. (Photo courtesy: Bloomberg)

(TibetanReview.net, Feb17’21) – It was initially thought that China’s leader Xi Jinping late last year quashed Ant Group’s massive initial public offering because he was worried that it was adding risk to the financial system, and furious at its founder, Jack Ma, for criticizing his signature campaign to strengthen financial oversight. But now, it appears that there was another, possibly even more pressing, reason behind the move: growing unease over Ant’s complex ownership structure, with the people who stood to gain most from what would have been the world’s largest IPO including potential challengers to Xi’s leadership, reported the wsj.com Feb 16, citing more than a dozen Chinese officials and government advisers.

Behind layers of opaque investment vehicles that own stakes in the firm were a coterie of well-connected Chinese power players, including some with links to political families that represent a potential challenge to President Xi and his inner circle, the report said, citing a previously unreported central-government investigation.

Those individuals, along with Mr Ma and the company’s top managers, stood to pocket billions of dollars from a listing that would have valued the company at more than $300 billion, the report said.

Ma had disappeared from public view for months since Nov 2020, and speculation over his whereabouts ran rampant. Finally, last week, the co-founder of Ant Group Co and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, was spotted playing golf in Hainan, an island province. It was the first known sighting of Ma since the former English teacher joined a live-streamed video chat with rural educators on Jan 20.

The report noted that while that appearance helped quiet talk of Ma’s detention, speculation about his standing with China’s Communist Party had continued to swirl as authorities clamped down on his sprawling business empire.

The regulatory crackdown on Ma’s business empire in China was reported to have followed an Oct 24 speech in which he blasted the country’s regulatory system. Ant pulled its IPO just days before its scheduled dual Hong Kong and Shanghai debut.

Authorities then launched an antitrust probe into the tech sector, with Alibaba taking much of the heat, and pushed Ant to revamp its business structure to bring it under tighter regulatory supervision. The garrulous Ma disappeared from public view for three months.


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