China Slams Alibaba Record $2.8 Billion Fine

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China slapped a record $2.8 billion fine on Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. after an anti-monopoly probe found it abused its market dominance, as Beijing clamps down on its internet giants.

The 18.2 billion yuan penalty is triple the previous high of almost $1 billion that U.S. chipmaker Qualcomm Inc. had to pay in 2015, and was based on 4% of Alibaba’s 2019 domestic revenue, according to China’s antitrust watchdog.

The company will also have to initiate “comprehensive rectifications,” from protecting merchants and customers to strengthening internal controls, the agency said in a statement on Saturday.

The fine — about 12% of Alibaba’s fiscal 2020 net income — helps remove some of the uncertainty that’s hung over China’s second-largest corporation. But Beijing remains intent on reining in its internet and fintech giants and is said to be scrutinizing other parts of billionaire founder Jack Ma’s empire, including Ant Group Co.’s consumer-lending businesses and Alibaba’s extensive media holdings.

Alibaba used its platform rules and technical methods like data and algorithms “to maintain and strengthen its own market power and obtain improper competitive advantage,” the State Administration for Market Regulation concluded in its investigation. The company will likely have to change a raft of practices, like merchant exclusivity, which critics say helped it become China’s largest e-commerce operation.

Alibaba’s practice of imposing a “pick one from two” choice on merchants “shuts out and restricts competition“ in the domestic online retail market, according to the statement.

The government action sends a clear warning to the tech sector as the government scrutinizes the influence that companies like Alibaba and social media giant Tencent Holdings Ltd. wield over spheres from consumer data to mergers and acquisitions.

The investigation into Alibaba was one of the opening salvos in a campaign seemingly designed to curb the power of China’s internet leaders and their billionaire founders.

The company has come under mounting pressure from authorities since Ma spoke out against China’s regulatory approach to the finance sector in October. Those comments set in motion an unprecedented regulatory offensive, including scuttling Ant Group Co.’s $35 billion initial public offering.

Alibaba said it will hold a conference call Monday morning Hong Kong time to address lingering questions around the antitrust watchdog’s decree.

Still, it remains unclear whether the watchdog or other agencies might demand further action. Regulators are said for instance to be concerned about Alibaba’s ability to sway public discourse and want the company to sell some of its media assets, including the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong’s leading English-language newspaper.

The Hangzhou-based firm will be required to implement “comprehensive rectifications,” including strengthening internal controls, upholding fair competition, and protecting businesses on its platform and consumers’ rights, the regulator said. It will need to submit reports on self-regulation to the authority for three consecutive years.

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