Jack Ma has relinquished his ownership at the heart of Alibaba

Jack Ma has quietly relinquished his ownership of the legal entities at the heart of Alibaba, symbolically handing back the keys to the Chinese technology giant he founded 19 years go. Mr Ma, 54, has already announced he will retire as Alibaba’s chairman next year. It has now emerged that he has also removed himself as one of the owners of its main “variable interest entities”, the vehicles that hold the company’s operating licences and certain assets on the Chinese mainland… Mr Ma remains as a shareholder and a permanent member of Alibaba’s 36-strong partnership, which has the right to nominate a majority of the board. But his exit from the VIEs means he will not have one historically important lever of control. VIEs have allowed Chinese technology companies, whose sensitive internet assets such as licences cannot be legally owned by foreigners, to tap overseas markets for capital. Shareholders in New York-listed Alibaba have contracts with Alibaba’s VIEs stipulating that profits are transferred across. But the contracts do not always guarantee the interests of foreign shareholders, who do not have direct access to the assets of VIEs. 
Louise Lucas