On CFIUS Dissuading Jack Ma’s MoneyGram Purchase

2EOPnK8 On CFIUS Dissuading Jack Ma's MoneyGram Purchase
Is this ant a PRC Communist apparatchik? The CFIUS apparently thinks so.

There is a long history of Chinese companies being prevented from purchasing American firms on highly questionable “national security” grounds. The source of this discrimination is the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). What is interesting here, though, is that the PRC national attempting to buy an American firm was no less than Chinese multibillionaire Jack Ma. Unlike the often faceless heads of Chinese state-owned enterprises, Ma is a global icon and the founder of his own immense business empire.

What’s more, he actually visited the orange-hued Donald at Trump Tower prior to the latter assuming the presidency in hopes of gaining better business treatment  Stateside. Promising to create a “million jobs,” Ma appeared to be successful at sucking up to Trump then. Well, I guess the story continues: Ma tried to buy the US money transfer firm MoneyGram to append to his online financial services concern Ant Financial. However, the US government foreign investment watchdog CFIUS again raised longstanding concerns about a privately-owned Chinese firms’ alleged Communist Party ties to deny the purchase of a fairly minor US company:

Ant Financial’s plan to acquire U.S. money transfer company MoneyGram International Inc (MGI.O) collapsed on Tuesday after a U.S. government panel rejected it over national security concerns, the most high-profile Chinese deal to be torpedoed under the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump[…]

Ma, a Chinese citizen who appears frequently with leaders from the highest echelons of the Communist Party, had promised Trump in a meeting a year ago that he would create 1 million U.S. jobs[…] 

The companies decided to terminate their deal after the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) rejected their proposals to mitigate concerns over the safety of data that can be used to identify U.S. citizens, according to sources familiar with the confidential discussions.

If you are persistent enough, the identity of anyone using a commercially available cash transfer service can likely be revealed. However, the real security-related question is whether Jack Ma would have motives to obtain this kind of information. It is here where CFIUS’ reasoning goes off-track in my opinion. First, you have to believe that the Communist Party would be interested in obtaining the identity of MoneyGram users. Given that the amounts transacted are usually small ones among retail clients, it’s kind of hard to believe that the PRC would have interested in the transactions of economic migrants and suchlike.

Second, you would also have to believe Ma’s Communist Party ties are such that he would willingly give up such information. Again, this is unlikely in that such a breach, if revealed, could torpedo the operations of MoneyGram/Ant Financial altogether. Why pay for the brand if you were to tarnish it in this manner by forking over identities to the reds?

It’s truly farfetched that Jack Ma would have acted as a Communist infiltrator. Maybe CFIUS watches too many spy movies, but I believe that the security risk would have been negligible insofar as MoneyGram doesn’t handle the transfers of exceptionally large amounts of money for clients whose financial transactions would be of interest to inquiring minds like those of the Communist Party.

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