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China’s Ant Group Facing $1.1bn Fine, to End PBOC Revamp

The penalty will pave the way for fintech giant to become a financial holding company and eventually allow it to revive its plan for a stock market listing.

Chinese financial authorities are set to issue a fine of at least 8 billion yuan ($1.1 billion) on Ant Group, sources have revealed.
Jack Ma has stayed out of the limelight since his infamous speech in late 2020 and the crackdown by regulators on his and many other tech companies in China. File photo from 2015 by Reuters.


Chinese financial authorities are set to issue a fine of at least 8 billion yuan ($1.1 billion) on Ant Group, sources have revealed.

The news is expected to end the fintech giant’s regulatory restructuring, which has dragged on for two and a half years.

The People’s Bank of China, which has been driving the revamp at Ant since its $37-billion IPO was scuttled in late 2020, is expected to disclose the fine in coming days.

The penalty, which would be one of the largest ever fines for an internet company in the country, will help pave the way for the fintech firm to secure a financial holding company licence, seek growth, and eventually revive its plan for a stock market listing.


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New PBOC governor Pan oversaw revamp

For the broader technology sector, an Ant fine would mark a key step towards the conclusion to China’s bruising crackdown on private enterprises that began with the scrapping of Ant’s IPO and which has subsequently wiped billions off the market value of several companies.

Ant and the PBOC did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The sources did not wish to be named as they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Founded by billionaire Jack Ma, Ant undertakes payment processing, consumer lending and insurance products distribution, among other businesses. In mid-2020 before its IPO was pulled, it was valued by some investors at more than $300 billion.

Since April 2021, Ant has been formally undergoing a sweeping business restructuring, which includes turning itself into a financial holding company that would subject it to rules and capital requirements similar to those for banks.

Any announcement of the fine on Ant would come soon after China’s ruling Communist Party appointed central bank Deputy Governor Pan Gongsheng as the bank’s party secretary, a move two policy sources said would be a prelude to appointing him governor.

He is one of the main regulatory officials overseeing Ant’s revamp and has attended several meetings with the company about the fine and the revamp, according to the sources.

The National Financial Regulatory Administration, a new government body under the State Council, is now the primary regulator to grant Ant the licence, the sources said.

The NFRA did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The PBOC did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Pan’s role either.


Penalty follows Ma’s return to China

The size of the fine has been revised to at least 8 billion yuan, the sources said. Reuters reported in April that Chinese regulators were considering fining Ant about 5 billion yuan, a lower sum than what they had in mind initially.

Ant’s fine would be the largest regulatory penalty imposed on a Chinese internet company since ride-hailing major Didi Global was fined $1.2 billion by China’s cybersecurity regulator last year.

The fintech firm’s affiliate, e-commerce titan Alibaba Group, was fined a record 18 billion yuan ($2.8 billion) in 2021 for antitrust violations.

A fine on Ant would come at a time Chinese authorities are keen to boost private sector confidence as the $17-trillion economy struggles to recover despite the lifting of zero-Covid curbs earlier this year.

It would also follow the return to China of Ma earlier this year after spending many months overseas. Ma, who also founded Alibaba, withdrew from public view in late 2020 after giving a speech criticising China’s regulatory system, an event widely regarded as a trigger for the crackdown on industry.

He previously owned more than 50% of the voting rights at Ant, but in January it said he would give up control of the company as part of the revamp.


  • Reuters with additional editing by Jim Pollard




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Jim Pollard

Jim Pollard is an Australian journalist based in Thailand since 1999. He worked for News Ltd papers in Sydney, Perth, London and Melbourne before travelling through SE Asia in the late 90s. He was a senior editor at The Nation for 17+ years.


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