Alibaba, co-founded by Chinese e-commerce giant Jack Ma, saw its Hong Kong-listed shares plunge as much as 9.4 per cent after Chinese state media reported that an individual surnamed 'Ma' in the city of Hangzhou -- where Alibaba is based -- was detained on national security grounds, media reports said.
According to China's state broadcaster CCTV, the suspect was placed under "compulsory measures" on April 25 on suspicion of "colluding with overseas anti-China hostile forces" to "incite secession" and "incite subversion of state power".
The one-sentence report, which was swiftly picked up by other state media outlets and alerted across Chinese news platforms, triggered panic selling in Hong Kong, erasing an estimated $26 billion from Alibaba's market value within minutes, CNN reported.
Amid the frenzy, Hu Xijin, the former editor-in-chief of the state-owned nationalist tabloid the Global Times, rushed to clarify on China's Twitter-like Weibo that the report was misleading because the name of the suspect in question has three characters.
Jack Ma's Chinese name, Ma Yun, has only two characters. (CCTV later quietly updated its original report to match Hu's assessment).
To further dispel concerns, the Global Times reported that the accused man was born in 1985 in Wenzhou (while Jack Ma was born in 1964 in Hangzhou) and worked as the director of hardware research and development at an IT company, CNN reported.
The clarifications led to a rebound, with Alibaba recovering the majority of its losses by the day's end.
The market's roller-coaster reaction is the latest sign of just how skittish investors are getting over China's embattled tech sector, which has been a target of the Chinese government's heavy-handed regulatory crackdown since late 2020, the report added.