Jack Ma cancels keynote speech at counterfeit group meeting

NEW YORK: Jack Ma, the head of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, is withdrawing from an anti-counterfeiting convention in Florida just two days before he was scheduled to give the keynote speech.

Alibaba announced the move Tuesday following last week's suspension of the company's membership in the International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition, a small but influential group that lobbies US officials and testifies before Congress.

Ma is a self-made billionaire, and Alibaba, which he founded in 1999, went public in 2014 in the biggest initial public offering of stock to date. But some IACC members view the company as the world's largest marketplace for fakes.

Members of the IACC rebelled against Alibaba's membership in the group and were further upset about conflicts of interest involving the group's president, Robert Barchiesi.

According to an investigation by The Associated Press, Barchiesi had stock in Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., had close ties to an Alibaba executive and had used family members to help run the coalition. The conflicts of interest weren't fully disclosed to the IACC board, and it has since hired an independent firm to review its corporate governance policies.

The IACC website listed Ma scheduled to talk Thursday about the importance of e-commerce and Alibaba's efforts to protect intellectual property rights on its platforms.

Instead, Alibaba President Michael Evans will represent the company at the annual spring conference in Orlando, Florida, and will "reinforce Alibaba's commitment to fighting counterfeits and the importance of strong collaboration between brands, governments and intermediaries."

Alibaba also alluded to its suspension from IACC, calling it a "step in the wrong direction and regrettable. It highlights a fundamental difference in how we want to solve this problem."

After Alibaba's controversial inclusion in the group, in April, Michael Kors and Gucci America quit in protest. Then Tiffany walked out, citing concerns over governance issues. Gucci is suing Alibaba in US court, alleging that the e-commerce giant knowingly profits from the sale of fakes. Alibaba has dismissed the case as "wasteful litigation."

The Washington, DC-based coalition has more than 250 members. US Ambassador to China Max Baucus still plans to deliver his keynote at the conference as scheduled, Benjamin Weber, a spokesman for the US Embassy in Beijing, said Wednesday.

Ma was spotted departing the White House campus on Tuesday, exiting from a gate alongside the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. It was unclear whom he met with; asked by reporters to describe his meeting, he said "maybe later" and "very good" before getting into a waiting black vehicle.