Alibaba's Jack Ma Might Still Be Missing—What's the Deal?

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Sep. 9 2021, Published 10:32 a.m. ET

Alibaba Group Holding (NYSE:BABA) stock has descended sporadically over the last year—enough to bring the value of the stock down 38.63 percent during that time. Alibaba's founder and CEO, Jack Ma, has faced antitrust scrutiny from the Chinese government over his operation, which boasts a $454+ billion market cap despite losses.

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Ma wasn't seen between the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021, and he might still be missing. Is he in hiding or does the Chinese government have something to do with it?

Happy birthday, Jack Ma.

Ma was born on September 10, 1964—which means that he turns 57 tomorrow. The e-commerce founder has been a billionaire since the early aughts, just years after founding his company in 1999 and raising his first $25 million investment the year after.

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For a long time, Ma owned the largest ownership stake with 11.7 percent equity in Alibaba, but he sold his stake over time and currently owns 4.8 percent. Softbank Group holds the largest stake with a 25 percent share.

Jack Ma went missing in late 2020.

On October 24, 2020, Ma gave a speech in Shanghai ahead of his Ant Group IPO, which was set to break records for the largest IPO ever.

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In the speech, Ma criticized the Chinese government, particularly the financial system it operated under. He called for reform and said about the country, "In the old days, a pawnshop was an advanced idea. Had it not been for innovations such as pledges and collateral, there would be no financial institutions today, and the Chinese economy would not have developed over the past 40 years to such a point now."

After the speech, no one saw Ma at all for about three months.

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The Chinese government halted the Ant Group IPO and forced restructuring based on monopoly regulations. Since then, Ant Group has reconfigured and probably won't go public.

Despite infrequent appearances, many people think that Jack Ma is still missing.

Since he first "went missing," Ma has only been seen six times in public. In January, he published a video of himself online that many people thought looked orchestrated. He said that he's working with charity foundations in his country to help poor people. The video was first posted on a Chinese government-based news publication. In the video, he called for "rural revitalization and common prosperity," two things that Chinese President Xi Jinping cites as key goals.

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This is the only verified sighting of Ma since October 24, 2020. The other five sightings are undocumented or unverified.

Is Jack Ma really missing? It isn't certain, but it's definitely possible.

Ma might very well be focusing on charity work, hiding out, or taking punishment from the Chinese government.

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China does have a history of hostage diplomacy for nationals and foreigners. The government's recent $2.8 billion fine for Alibaba shows that its focusing on Ma in one way or another.

Wherever Ma is in the world, his net worth retains its billionaire status at $42.3 billion.

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