China’s market regulator, the State Administration for Market Regulation, announced Thursday that based on reports they have launched an investigation into billionaire Jack Ma’s Alibaba Group Holdings for “suspected monopolistic conduct.” The State Administration of Foreign Exchange, China Banking Regulatory Commission, China Securities Regulatory Commission and The People’s Bank of China have also called Alibaba’s financial affiliate Ant Group for supervisory and guidance talks to ensure financial supervision, fair competition and protection of consumers’ interests.
The State Administration for Market Regulation is currently probing Alibaba for violating exclusivity agreements or “choosing one of two” practices that require vendors to sign agreements for exclusive cooperation and prohibits them from selling products on rival platforms. The investigation is part of recent government efforts to prevent monopolistic and anti-competitive practices for improving the socialist market economy system and fostering development. China’s national market regulator released guidelines in November to “prevent and stop monopolistic behaviors” by internet giants such as collecting unnecessary data from consumers, colluding to eliminate small rivals, and making it difficult for users to switch other platforms.
Regulatory officials in November halted Ant Group and Alipay’s initial public offering, which would have otherwise been the largest in the world, just 48 hours before trading was scheduled to begin in Hong Kong and Shanghai. While the Shanghai Stock Exchange gave reasons pertaining to changes in the fintech regulatory environment, many believe that the move came in response to criticism from Jack Ma against the Chinese banking system for their role in halting innovation via policies aimed at containing financial risk.
Alibaba Group has said that it will actively cooperate with the regulators and the company’s business will operate normally for the time being. Similarly, Ant Group has stated that will diligently study the regulatory departments’ requests and comply with the same. If the regulators find against Alibaba, penalties under China’s anti-monopoly law can be up to 10% of the company’s turnover from the previous year.
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