SHANGHAI, China: Alibaba Group has been fined $2.75 billion by Chinese regulators for violating anti-monopoly rules and abusing its leading market position.
The penalty, the highest antitrust fine to be imposed in the country and equivalent to some 4 percent of Alibaba’s 2019 revenues, comes amid an unprecedented regulatory crackdown on domestic technology conglomerates in recent months.
Alibaba billionaire founder Jack Ma’s business empire has particularly been under fire after his harsh criticism of China’s regulatory system in late October.
Although Ma has stepped down from corporate positions and earnings calls, he retains significant influence over Alibaba and Ant, Alibaba’s internet finance arm.
In late December, China’s State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) launched an antitrust probe into the company, soon after authorities quashed a planned $37 billion IPO from Ant Group.
“This penalty will be viewed as a closure to the anti-monopoly case for now by the market. It’s indeed the highest profile anti-monopoly case in China,” said Hong Hao, head of research BOCOM International in Hong Kong.
“The market has been anticipating some sort of penalty for some time … but people need to pay attention to the measures beyond the anti-monopoly investigation.”
On Saturday SAMR accused Alibaba of “abusing market dominance” since 2015 by preventing its merchants from using other online e-commerce platforms, violating China’s anti-monopoly law by impeding the free circulation of goods and infringing on the business interests of merchants.
The authority ordered Alibaba to make “thorough rectifications” to strengthen internal compliance and protect consumer rights.
In a statement posted on its Weibo account, Alibaba said it would resolutely implement SAMR’s rulings and work to improve corporate compliance.
The Chinese e-commerce giant said it will hold a conference call on Monday to discuss the penalty.
“The fine is a milestone and road sign with great importance,” said Shi Jianzhong, antitrust consultant committee member of the State Council and professor at China University of Political Science and Law.
“It indicates that the antitrust law enforcement on internet platforms has entered a new era, and released a clear policy signal.”
Citing concerns that its big tech firms have built market power that stifles competition, misused consumer data and violated consumer rights, Beijing has vowed to crack down on them.
Besides Ma’s Alibaba, regulators have also been targeting other internet giants.