Will Jack Ma’s Ties to Trump Administration Pave Way for MoneyGram Grab?

Chinese Internet tycoon Jack Ma is cultivating increasingly close ties to the Trump administration, just as his online payments platform Ant Financial seeks to overcome regulatory obstacles to its acquisition of money transfer giant MoneyGram.

Earlier this week Ma teamed up with Blackstone Group founder Stephen Schwarzman to convene a gathering of 20 leading business figures from the United States and China, scheduled to take place the day just prior to a key official dialogue between the governments of both countries.

According to the Washington Post, the event has helped to further cement Ma’s position as the Trump administration’s “favourite Chinese businessman and interlocutor” and obtain  a remarkable level of access to the President’s inner circle.

Ma has teamed up with Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law, to invest in a real estate project, while he recently dined with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross as the latter’s Washington domicile.

While Ma claims that he can facilitate access to China’s e-commerce for small and medium-sized enterprises in the US, his increasingly close ties to the Trump administration could serve his own interests by paving the way for his slated acquisition of the world’s second largest money transfer company MoneyGram.

Earliest this year Ma’s Ant Financial bested a bevy of suitors to cut a deal for the acquisition of Dallas-headquartered MoneyGram.

The deal could still run aground, however over security concerns surrounding the size and reach of MoneyGram, and the ability of the Chinese government to access remittance information in relation to military personnel.

Lawmakers note that MoneyGram has established facilities close to certain US military bases, and is frequently used by servicemen to remit furs back home, potentially providing a useful source of security intelligence to the Chinese government.

Ant Financial has responded to such accusations by taking measures to alleviate any such concerns, such as arrangements to keep all servers and data on US nationals within the US.

Douglas Feagin, Ant’s head of international operations, further notes that Chinese government-affiliated entities comprise less than 15 percent of of Ant Financial’s investor pool.

These reassurances have done little to assuage the concerns of certain senior policymakers, who are well-positioned to thwart Ma’s ambitions to establish a global online payments empire.

“Even if there is no official relationship, there is no Chinese firm of size that cannot be coerced or controlled by the Chinese government,” said Michael Wessel, a commissioner on the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission to the Washington Post. 

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