Wall Street Journal: Jack Ma is not allowed to leave the country

Rumors are circulating that mainland officials are investigating how quickly Ant Group’s plan to list its shares last year was approved, with the investigation focusing on Alibaba founder Jack Ma’s ties to key government figures. Ma will not be allowed to leave mainland China until the investigation is complete.

The Wall Street Journal cited sources as saying that mainland officials are investigating how Ma got regulatory approval for Ant Group’s stock listing quickly last year. The news, if true, would mean that a series of official actions against Jack Ma have been extended to government agencies.

Beijing authorities launched an investigation earlier this year, focusing on the regulator that approved Ant Group’s IPO last year, local officials who supported the deal at the time and state-owned enterprises expected to benefit from the deal, sources said. The investigation focuses on Ma’s relationship with some key government figures.

There is a lot of interest in which local officials and even key central government officials may be implicated in the future.

In addition, the news also means that the future of Ant Group and Jack Ma remains uncertain, and Jack Ma has been ordered not to leave mainland China until Ant Group completes the corrections required by regulators.

In the fourth quarter of last year, Ant Group first pushed ahead with an IPO at an astonishing pace and was approved to list on the Science and Technology Venture Exchange, which at the time valued it at more than RMB 2 trillion; however, the IPO came to an abrupt halt on the eve of the November 5 listing.

On April 10, the State Administration of Market Supervision and Administration of the People’s Republic of China announced that it had imposed an astronomical fine of RMB 18.2 billion on Alibaba Group for its “two-for-one” monopoly in the mainland e-tailing platform market, and on April 12, Ant Group was again interviewed by the financial regulator for an in-depth and effective rectification plan.

It is rumored that one of the key items in this new wave of investigation is the science and technology version of the Shanghai Stock Exchange, as Jack Ma had planned to have Ant Group listed on the science and technology version and the Hong Kong Stock Exchange simultaneously. The Sci-Tech version of the Shanghai Stock Exchange was announced by mainland President Xi Jinping in 2018, mainly to help mainland tech companies raise capital so they can be more competitive with U.S. companies.

Also targeted in this new wave of investigations is how some state funds, including sovereign wealth fund China Investment Corporation Limited and China Life Insurance Company Limited, have invested in Ant Group.