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Ant explores ways for Jack Ma to exit -sources

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Ant is exploring options for founder Jack Ma to exit. Several sources told Reuters the financial technology giant affiliated with Alibaba is looking for ways he could divest his stake and give up control. They said Chinese regulators had signaled the move could help draw a line under Beijing’s scrutiny of its business.

Ma’s exit could clear the way for Ant to go public. China had suddenly suspended Ant’s record $37 billion listing last fall just after regulators met with Ma. His public criticism of regulators in a speech last October set off a revamp of Ant and a regulatory clampdown on China’s technology sector.

A source says the company hoped Ma’s stake could be sold to existing investors in Ant or e-commerce giant Alibaba Group. But a second source says Ma was told he would not be allowed to sell his stake to any entity or individual close to him and would have to exit completely … or he could transfer his stake to a Chinese investor.

Ant denies that a divestment of Ma’s stake was under consideration. The Ant spokesman did not provide any comments from Ma. Ma’s office did not respond to Reuters’ request for comment. The State Council Information Office, People’s Bank of China and China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission also did not respond to requests for comment.

Last week, China fined Alibaba a record $2.75 billion after finding it had abused its dominant market position for several years. A few days later, the central bank asked Ant to become a financial holding company. That would subject it to banking rules that it had managed to avoid that helped it grow so quickly.