Billionaire Jack Ma makes first public appearance since Beijing’s crackdown on Ant Group

Published (HKT): 2021.04.15 19:48

Alibaba founder Jack Ma on Wednesday made his first public appearance since last October when he attended a video conference that also included Russian President Vladimir Putin.Ma attended an online meeting of the Russian Geographical Society, where he remained silent and occasionally drank tea throughout the two-hour event, according to Russia’s Sputnik news agency.

Ma has kept a low profile since Chinese authorities in November halted the initial public offering of Ant Group, the financial services company that Ma founded and controls. It was set to be the biggest IPO in history before authorities pulled the plug. Last week, regulators imposed a record 18.2 billion yuan (US$2.8 billion) fine on its affiliate company Alibaba for violating antitrust laws.

Aside from a January video clip featuring Ma discussing his charity work, the billionaire had not been spotted in person since an event on Oct. 31 last year.

Ma has kept close ties with Russia for years, and has shared a stage with Putin on multiple occasions. In March 2020, the Russian defense ministry thanked Ma for donating more than a million medical masks and 200,000 test kits for COVID-19. In a statement made by the ministry, Ma was credited as an “honorary member of the Russian Geographical Society.”

At the time, Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu also called Ma to thank him personally and praised him as a “true friend of our country.”

Ma retired from his role as Alibaba’s executive chairman in 2019 but remains a major shareholder. Alibaba said earlier this week that Beijing’s antitrust fine had no “negative material impact” on the company’s business.

Putin once expressed puzzlement at Ma’s decision to retire from e-commerce giant Alibaba, and posed the question to him at the 2018 Eastern Economic Forum held in Vladivostok, Russia. Ma was still “so young,” the Russia leader said.

“I spent my 54th birthday in Russia yesterday,” Ma replied at the time. “I have been [running this business] for 19 years and achieved something, but there are still many things I hope to accomplish, like education and philanthropy.”

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