Billionaire Chinese tech entrepreneur Jack Ma has vanished from public life after being rebuked by regulators in the Communist country.
The high-profile executive has not been seen in public since Chinese officials forced the cancellation of his finance firm Ant Group's blockbuster float in November. The US$35bn ($48.8bn) listing would have been the largest in history.
Ma dropped out of the final episode of the television show Africa's Business Heroes in which he was due to be a judge. Photographs of him have also been removed from the show's website.
An Alibaba spokesman reportedly said that Ma's absence from the show was due to a scheduling conflict.
Coverage of the billionaire's low profile has sparked thousands of tweets asking "Where is Jack Ma?".
One Twitter user said: "I hope Jack Ma is just laying low on a private island somewhere because if his government can cancel him, the average citizen has no chance."
Ma's last public appearance was when he made a speech in October in which he criticised China's regulatory system and attacked banks for operating under a "pawnshop mentality". The outburst reportedly led to authorities increasing their scrutiny of his business empire.
Despite the social media speculation over Ma's whereabouts, investors in Ant and his e-commerce empire Alibaba are said to be relieved over the 56-year-old's decision to pause his regular speeches and television appearances following the regulatory crackdown.
One insider likened Ma's current period of silence to a similar incident in 2015 when the executive was forced to issue a public apology for "crazy" and "stupid" comments he made about Chinese e-commerce rival JD.com.
At the time, he took to Chinese social media site Weibo to make amends after calling JD.com a "tragedy". Ma wrote: "I'm deeply sorry for the senseless troubles caused."
Abishur Prakash of consultancy Center for Innovating the Future said: "Jack Ma is likely taking time away from the spotlight to gauge his options.
"With the Chinese government going after large technology firms, Ma is in a challenging situation. But remember, Jack Ma is more than just an individual. His name has become a brand that represents the 'new China', Now, with his firms under fire, silence may be the most strategic choice."
An Alibaba spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
Shares closed down 2.1 per cent in Hong Kong and were 3 per cent lower in New York.
- Telegraph Media Group