Chinese billionaire and Alibaba founder Jack Ma has not been seen in public for nearly two months. He also missed appearing on the final episode of a television show he was set to cameo. His sudden disappearance has now sparked wild speculations on social media, including rumors of his alleged death.
Ma's disappearance came after his business' attempts to list were derailed by regulators. Alibaba's financial technology arm Ant Group was also the subject of an anti-trust investigation.
The last time Ma was seen in public was during a forum in Shanghai in late October last year. During his speech, Ma blasted China's regulatory system. His statements along with several actions taken by his company eventually resulted in the suspension of Ant Group's planned $37 billion initial public offering.
Local media reports said that producers of a television show called "Africa's Business Heroes" had to replace Ma at the last minute for the show's final episode. Ma was set to appear as a judge on the show.
Alibaba said in a statement released Tuesday that Ma wasn't able to appear on the show due to a "scheduling conflict." The company did not elaborate further on Ma's current whereabouts.
While the topic of Ma's whereabouts has recently sparked conversations on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, China's social media platforms have remained relatively silent on the topic. Conversations sensitive to the government are typically subject to censorship in the country.
Speculations made by social media users outside of China include rumors of Ma's death. Some have also speculated that Ma may have been arrested or perhaps assassinated over his statements against the Chinese government.
Analysts in China said that Ma may have been told to lay low for a while until the issues with his companies subside.
"I think he's been told to lay low. This is a pretty unique situation, more linked to the sheer scale of Ant and the sensitivities over financial regulation," tech consultancy company BDA China said.
After Ma's last appearance, China's regulatory bodies have zeroed in on his companies. Late last year, an antitrust investigation was launched against Alibaba and Ant Group. Regulators ordered the companies to "shake up" their operations and follow strict government requirements.