Speculation has been mounting over the whereabouts of Chinese tech billionaire Jack Ma, who has not been seen in public for two months.
Ma, who founded ecommerce behemoth Alibaba, hit the headlines in October when he made a speech criticising China’s financial regulators and state banks.
The tycoon was reprimanded by Beijing and the $34bn stock market float of his fintech company Ant Group was suspended.
He has not posted on his Twitter account or been seen in public since.
Ma mysteriously disappeared from his role as a judge on Africa’s Business Heroes, a Dragon’s Den-style TV show for entrepreneurs.
He failed to appear on the series final in November and his photo was removed from the show’s website.
A spokesperson for Alibaba told the Financial Times Ma had been unable to appear on the final due to a “schedule conflict”.
The sudden disappearance has fuelled speculation that Ma, who is one of China’s richest men, is paying the price for his criticism of the country’s regime.
On Christmas Eve authorities in Beijing launched an investigation into Alibaba over alleged monopolistic practices and reportedly told Ma not to leave the country.
Last week China doubled down on its campaign against the billionaire, ordering Ant Group to scale back its operations and focus on its mobile payment services.
Ma has been praised for his response to the coronavirus crisis after he donated tens of millions of face masks to Europe, the US and the World Health Organization.