Chinese police detain ex-Alibaba manager in sexual assault case


Chinese business & finance updates

A former Alibaba manager has been detained in China on suspicion of sexual assault, in a case that has rallied the country’s #MeToo movement against tech corporate culture as the sector faces a wide-ranging regulatory crackdown.

The scandal has turned renewed scrutiny on China’s biggest ecommerce company as authorities have stepped up sweeping policy changes and regulatory interventions in recent weeks that have wiped billions of dollars from the market capitalisations of the country’s largest tech companies.

The alleged assaults took place last month at a work-related dinner and later at a hotel, according to a statement released on Saturday by police in Jinan, the capital of Shandong province in eastern China.

An Alibaba client has also been detained on suspicion of assaulting the woman, according to the police statement, which added that there was no evidence of rape.

An Alibaba employee had accused her supervisor of sexually assaulting her after she was pressured into drinking. She also accused Alibaba of initially failing to respond to her request for an investigation. 

Alibaba, founded by billionaire Jack Ma, has been struggling to contain the widening fallout from the case. The company announced last week that the manager had been fired, while chief executive Daniel Zhang called the incident a “humiliation” and vowed improvements to Alibaba’s company culture.

But increasingly outspoken tech employees, including at internet giant Tencent and other tech groups, have demanded greater changes. Their complaints have shone a light on intense pressure on young employees to drink heavily at work events.

Alibaba did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Sunday.

The allegations at Alibaba have already sparked condemnation of corporate drinking culture by the Chinese Communist party’s anti-corruption watchdog, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.

Those warnings also came against a broader backdrop of intensifying official focus on behaviour deemed inappropriate and damaging to Chinese society. Authorities last week announced a five-year plan to institute a new legislative framework that would centralise the party’s control over strategic sectors, including technology and healthcare, and “meet people’s ever-growing demands for a good life”.

On Saturday, a commentary published by China National Radio, a state broadcaster, called for further regulatory scrutiny of online gaming, urging authorities to show “zero tolerance” for titles that “wantonly falsify history”, which it warned could “easily lead to misleading views”.

Under President Xi Jinping, who has touted China’s national rejuvenation as a critical theme of his leadership, the treatment of historical episodes has also become an increasingly sensitive issue.

State media commentary is closely watched by tech companies and their shareholders after previous warnings spooked investors and sent stock prices tumbling.

Tencent, which garners almost one-third of its revenues from gaming, was forced to announce restrictions on how long minors can play its online games after a state-run newspaper labelled gaming “spiritual opium”.

China’s culture ministry last week also signalled a crackdown on songs at karaoke venues that might spread “harmful information”.

Additional reporting by Emma Zhou in Beijing