STORY. What has become of Jack Ma since his mysterious disappearance?

During the period following his disgrace, Jack Ma went several times to Sanya, on the island of Hainan, a vacation spot for the Chinese. He spends his days playing golf, his favorite sport along with martial arts… He is therefore still free but he has clearly withdrawn from public life. His appearances can be counted on the fingers of one hand. We see him for the first time on January 20, 2021. He speaks in a short video broadcast by Tianmu News, a little-known official media, at the end of a ceremony organized by the Jack Ma Foundation highlighting teachers from rural areas. from the country. His tone is unusually monotonous.

A little later, on April 14, he attended a meeting of the Russian Geographical Society organized by videoconference in the presence of Vladimir Putin. On the screen, he seems to be moping while listening to the Russian leader. On May 10, tweets sent by Alibaba employees also signal his presence at the company’s headquarters in Hangzhou on the occasion of AliDay, the annual holiday he created himself. We see him walking around, wearing a simple bright blue T-shirt and white pants. He seems thinner but smiling. And, for the first time, he is not making a speech… Asked by the media about the meaning of this visit, the leaders of Alibaba make no comment.

In the absence of deprivation of liberty, the erasure scenario is gaining ground. Also in May, he thus disappears from the organization chart of Hupan University, the business school intended to train the Chinese elite that he himself had founded in 2015. The months go by, the fate of Jack Ma continues to unravel. feed all the rumours. At the end of the summer, it is the upturn. Jack Ma is first seen on October 12 in Hong Kong having lunch with several well-known business leaders in the city. But the following episode is much more spectacular.

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He reappears for the first time abroad, where no one expected him: in the Balearic Islands. The paparazzi photos showing him masked, wearing a cap and wearing a red polo shirt instantly go around the world. Several observers evoke a look-alike sent by the Xi Jinping regime. But, in Ibiza and then in Majorca, we see him playing golf and shopping. It’s him ! On the spot, the Spanish journalists are investigating: according to the newspaper Ultima Hora, he arrived in Ibiza on October 16 in a plane from Hong Kong, a Gulfstream G650, which is not the one that went to the Adirondacks or which he has used in China since August 2020.

The beautiful autumn sun is not the only motivation for his stay in a region that he adores according to those close to him. The spot is also ideal for finally taking possession of the two supertoys he bought before falling into disgrace. Emulating American tech tycoons and Russian oligarchs, he commissioned an 88-meter yacht from naval architect De Voogt in Rotterdam. Five bridges, an ultra-design and bright layout, the “Zen” was billed to it around 200 million dollars. But it was only completed in May and sent to the Mediterranean in June 2021. Its annual operating budget is estimated at $20 million. For a few days, he treats himself to a dream break by sailing along the coast.

At Palma de Mallorca airport, another beautiful baby is waiting for her. A Boeing 737 Max converted into a private jet. The plane, which cost him around $100 million, rolled off the chains in Seattle in 2019. It arrived in Europe but was grounded for nearly two years. Crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia forced the American manufacturer to make major modifications to the aircraft. Angered by this forced immobilization, Jack Ma even sued Boeing. Cleared to fly again, the aircraft is operational. When the businessman interrupts his vacation to make a business trip, he uses his 737 Max for the first time.

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On the morning of October 25, the plane headed for Rotterdam before leaving at the end of the afternoon for Olbia, in Sardinia. The flight plan corresponds perfectly to the five hours of visits he makes at pace to several companies in the Dutch agricultural sector. Jack Ma is accompanied by his partner David Yu (they co-founded the investment company Yunfeng Capital) and a small delegation.

His guests can’t believe it. “We were expecting a Chinese delegation, but we were totally surprised when Jack Ma got out of the car,” explains Marco van Herk, commercial director of the horticultural company Anthura. We spoke with him about orchids, their ability to smell good and be beautiful at the same time. He was very interested. »

A photographer who works for the professional site Hortidaily immortalizes the event. Wearing a baseball cap, wearing a hooded sweatshirt and sneakers on his feet, Jack Ma poses with a smile surrounded by the various teams that welcome him. He tastes tomatoes and cucumbers, or visits greenhouses dressed in transparent plastic protection. He expresses his interest in vegetable production technologies that China should, according to him, acquire.

What is the meaning of this visit? Did Jack Ma want to send the signal that he was now going to devote himself to the general interest of his country, starting with his food problems? To find out, we tried to get in touch with him. Without success. Those who, outside China, know him well hardly speak to him, fearing telephone tapping. “I don’t want to cause him the slightest harm,” says a very big French boss who wishes to remain anonymous. “I know how to reach him, but I prefer not to do so for the moment,” says an American consultant who worked for several years alongside him at Alibaba. Everyone remains confident. “I’m sure he’s free and that everything is fine, but he must remain silent,” assures one of his friends.

However, a new event dampens this optimism. Last January, the public television channel CCTV aired an episode of a documentary series entitled “Zero Tolerance”. Dedicated to Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign, this series of five films is produced by the Communist Party’s Disciplinary Inspection Commission. It is therefore the official voice that speaks. The story takes place in Hangzhou, the city of Alibaba located 160 kilometers from Shanghai. It designates, without naming it, the company ANT Group, the financial arm of Alibaba. The company is said to have invested in two start-ups created by the younger brother of the head of the local CCP branch. In exchange, she would have benefited from significant discounts on the purchase of two plots of land.

In China, it cannot be ruled out that the case was “made up” from scratch. But, if the facts are proven, the leaders of ANT Group risk a lot. And Jack Ma, who is the reference shareholder, could also be accountable. Disturbing coincidence: at exactly the same time, the Disciplinary Inspection Commission met in the presence of Xi Jinping and the country’s top officials. His account confirms the magnitude of the threat: “Efforts will be redoubled to investigate and sanction any act of corruption linked to the unbridled expansion of capital and the monopoly of platforms. We must break the link between power and capital and strengthen financial discipline. The Chinese government thus hopes to achieve a double blow: to show public opinion that it is fighting corruption and to do better than the United States by taming its digital giants.

The founder of Alibaba would therefore not yet be out of the woods. He has not shown himself since his very showy holiday in the Balearic Islands. His “toys” did not follow him. In March, his yacht anchored off Palma de Mallorca. And hasn’t moved since. No sign of life on board. As for his two business jets, the 737 Max and the Gulfstream G650 – with which he nevertheless flew in China –, they alternate long periods of parking in Basel in Switzerland and in Copenhagen in Denmark. Mystery. The thriller Jack Ma did not deliver all its twists.

Find the end of our story on Jack Ma tomorrow with the 3rd episode, or in issue 369 of Capital on newsstands or in digital version on Prismashop.

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