09:25 GMT25 February 2021
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    The development comes as Ma's Alibaba Group is being investigated by Chinese authorities for monopolistic behaviour. China's top market regulator said it would investigate reports the company had allegedly asked entrepreneurs to sign deals prohibiting them from selling products on rival platforms.

    Chinese billionaire Jack Ma has made his first public appearance since his mysterious disappearance. According to Chinese state media, the founder of the e-commerce giant Alibaba attended a welfare event, the Jack Ma Rural Teachers Award Ceremony via video link. The billionaire spoke with 100 rural teachers across the country.

    "We will meet again when the [COVID-19] epidemic is over!", Ma said as cited by Tianmu News.

    The news prompted a torrent comments on social media, with users expressing concern about Jack Ma.
    Some netizens alleged that he had been arrested by the Chinese authorities.

    ​Others went as far as to suggest that he had been replaced with a body double or even killed…

    ​Still other users contended that the billionaire looked like different person.

    ​Some netizens claimed that Ma had been "reprogrammed" and looked like a hostage.

    ​Still others were just happy to see the entrepreneur.

    ​Concerns were raised after Ma's disappearance following his address at the Bund Summit in Shanghai in October 2020. In the speech, the 56-year-old criticised Chinese regulators and accused state banks of having a "pawn-shop" mentality. Media outlets reported that these statements were not taken well by the government and that Ma was reprimanded by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

    Rumours intensified a month later after Chinese regulators stopped Ant Group, an affiliate of Alibaba that owns China's largest digital payment platform Alipay, from making an IPO. Reports say had the process gone through, the company would have raised $34.5 billion. The Wall Street Journal reported that President Xi Jinping was personally responsible for torpedoing the deal.

    In December 2020, Chinese regulators launched an antitrust probe into Alibaba citing reports of monopolistic behaviour. According to Chinese media, the investigation came as part of the country's campaign to reign in internet-based monopolies.

    During this period Ma lost $11 billion. According to Forbes' Real Time Billionaire list, his net worth now stands at $60.7 billion.

    Tags:
    Jack Ma, Alibaba Group, Ant Group
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