China fines Ant Group almost US$1 billion for ‘illegal acts’: securities regulator

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Chinese fintech firm Ant Group has been fined almost $1 billion for “illegal acts”, the country’s securities regulator said Friday.

“In view of the illegal and irregular acts by Ant Group and its affiliates in previous years… Ant Group and its affiliates have been fined 7.123 billion yuan (US$984 million)”, the China Securities Regulatory Commission said in a statement on Friday.

The fine related to “corporate governance, financial consumer protection, participation in business activities of banking and insurance institutions, payment and settlement business, fulfilment of anti-money laundering obligations, and development of fund sales business”, the statement said.

Ant operates Alipay, the world’s largest digital payments platform, which boasts hundreds of millions of monthly users in China and beyond.

But the company in recent years expanded into offering loans, credit, investments and insurance to hundreds of millions of consumers and small businesses.

The government has sought to rein in runaway personal debt and chaotic lending in the private sector, and upstart Ant’s growing profile has been widely viewed as a challenge to vested interests in the country’s state-dominated financial sphere.

The Alibaba affiliate was set to launch a record-shattering $35 billion Hong Kong-Shanghai IPO in 2020 when the double listing was abruptly called off by regulators, citing non-compliance with new capital requirements.

It was one of the most prominent targets of a sweeping crackdown on the country’s booming tech sector.

On Friday, Alibaba shares were up 3.44 percent in Hong Kong after reports that Ant would be fined, with analysts saying investors saw the punishment as evidence the tech crackdown was drawing to a close.

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