By Namita Singh
Ant Group’s founder Jack Ma will give up control of the Chinese fintech company in a major overhaul triggered after China launched a clampdown on his business empire about two years ago.
It comes as the tech billionaire, who has stayed out of the public eye since late 2021 and was said to be hiding out in Tokyo, was spotted in Bangkok this week.
Michelin-starred chef Supinya “Jay Fai” Junsuta posted a picture of himself with Mr Ma on Instagram on Friday. It was captioned: “Incredibly humble, we are honored to welcome you and your family to Jay Fai’s.”
Local media reported that he was at the restaurant with Supakit Chearavanont, chairman of Charoen Pokphand (CP) Group and Charoen Pokphand Foods PCL, Thailand’s largest agribusiness group.
Little has been heard from the once outspoken Chinese billionaire since he criticised China’s financial regulators in a speech in Shanghai in 2020, triggering a chain of events that resulted in the shelving of his Ant Group’s IPO.
Ant’s $37bn IPO would have been the world’s largest, but was cancelled at the last minute in November 2020, leading to a forced restructuring of the financial technology firm and speculation the Chinese billionaire would have to cede control.
While some analysts have said a relinquishing of control could clear the way for the company to revive its IPO, the changes announced by the group today are likely to result in a further delay due to listing regulations.
China’s domestic A-share market requires companies to wait three years after a change in control to list. The wait is two years on Shanghai’s Nasdaq-style Star market, and one year in Hong Kong.
A former English teacher, Mr Ma previously possessed more than 50 per cent of voting rights at Ant but the changes will mean that his share falls to 6.2 per cent, according to calculations by the Reuters news agency.
The company asserted in a statement that “the adjustment is being implemented to further enhance the stability of our corporate structure and sustainability of our long-term development”.
Mr Ma only owns a 10 per cent stake in Ant, an affiliate of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, but has exercised control over the company through related entities, according to Ant’s IPO prospectus filed with the exchanges in 2020.
His ceding of control comes as Ant is nearing the completion of its two-year regulatory-driven restructuring, with Chinese authorities poised to impose a fine of more than $1bn on the firm, Reuters reported last year.
The expected penalty is part of Beijing’s sweeping and unprecedented crackdown on the country’s technology titans over the past two years that has sliced hundreds of billions of dollars off their values and shrunk revenues and profits.
Additional reporting by agencies (Independence)