Billionaire Jack Ma reportedly might give up his stake in Ant Group after sparring with regulators - but other Chinese businessmen who disagreed with lawmakers have faced harsher fates

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jack ma
Jack Ma, billionaire founder of Alibaba. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
  • Jack Ma may give up his Ant Group stake after making negative comments about Chinese regulation.

  • CNBC's David Faber reported in January that Ma has been "less visible, purposefully."

  • Businessmen like Ren Zhiqiang and Xiao Jianhua disappeared after criticizing Chinese regulators.

  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The Chinese billionaire and Alibaba founder Jack Ma might give up his stake in Ant Group after being noticeably absent from public life.

Sources recently told Reuters Ant Group executives and Chinese regulators are considering Ma's potential exit from the company after the billionaire criticized global financial regulators, calling them an "old people's club" ill-suited to oversee Chinese tech innovation.

CNBC's David Faber reported Ma is being "less visible, purposefully" back in January after Yahoo Finance noted the billionaire had not been seen publicly for months. Faber said Mad had not gone missing. Ma made his first public appearance in months during a video conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin on April 15.

Chinese regulators recently opened an antitrust investigation into Alibaba, Ma's e-commerce giant. Ant Group, Ma's financial-services company, has drawn the ire of Chinese banks that accused it of stealing business from them. The country introduced regulations in November that halted Ant Group's initial public offering.

Read more: China's antitrust probe into Alibaba could be an opportunity for other cloud players - including Amazon, Microsoft, and Google - to swoop in

While Ma may be trying to stay out of the public eye during the investigation, his absence is reminiscent of other Chinese businessmen who disappeared after sparring with regulators.

Ren Zhiqiang, a retired real-estate tycoon, fell off the radar in March after accusing the Communist Party of mishandling the coronavirus pandemic, The New York Times reported. Beijing later sentenced Ren, 69, to 18 years in prison.

The country reportedly arrested other critics of its response to the pandemic, including Xu Zhangrun, a law professor, and Zhang Xuezhong, a human-rights lawyer.

Xiao Jianhua, an asset manager, was abducted from a hotel in Hong Kong in January 2017, Reuters reported. Xiao disappeared into Chinese custody, and the country later seized parts of his company, Tomorrow Group, The Times reported in July. Regulators had accused Xiao and other tycoons of taking would-be investors away from Chinese stock markets, The Guardian said.

Meng Hongwei, the former head of Interpol, disappeared in September 2018 during a trip to China from France, the BBC reported. Last January, China sentenced him to 13 1/2 years in prison on bribery charges.

Meng's wife, who first reported her husband missing, told The Guardian in 2018 she believed that her husband was innocent and that his detention was politically motivated.

"It's not justice," she said, adding: "I think the anti-corruption campaign in China has already been damaged. It has become a way of attacking people who are your enemy."

Ant Group and Alibaba were not immediately available for comment.

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