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Head of Alibaba’s Youku Sacked, Under Police Investigation for Corruption

Yang Weidong, president of Alibaba’s video-streaming platform, Youku, has been fired and is under police investigation for corruption, the company confirmed Tuesday. Alibaba Pictures chairman and CEO Fan Luyuan will take over running China’s equivalent of YouTube, while also continuing in his current capacity.

Yang, who also served as head of Alibaba Digital Media and Entertainment Group, is one of the leading figures in China’s fast-growing streaming video business. There was no formal announcement of his ouster, but a spokesperson for Alibaba Digital Media and Entertainment referred to Yang as “ex-president” and told Variety that the exec “is understood to be assisting mainland authorities with an investigation into an alleged case of seeking economic benefits.” No further details were provided.

Alibaba had already been internally investigating Yang for some time, respected Chinese finance magazine Caijing reported Tuesday, adding that the suspected corruption likely had to do with “problems with revenue and expenditures” tied to Youku’s variety show “This Is,” launched earlier this year. The “economic benefits” in question may involve more than 100 million yuan ($14.6 million), according to Chinese business news website huxiu.

“This Is” targeted younger viewers and millennials with reality show competitions on subjects such as basketball, singing, and robot fighting. The first and most popular, known as “Street Dance of China,” sought to capitalize on the interest in hip-hop culture sparked by runaway reality hit “The Rap of China” after authorities expressed consternation for hip-hop-related content appearing on television.

Yang’s apparent fall from grace comes just five days after his most recent public appearance at an industry conference in the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu on Nov. 29. A glowing profile of him in China Entrepreneur Magazine two months ago quoted him as saying: “I fear when others are greedy, and am greedy when others are afraid.”

Yang is not the first Youku or Alibaba media executive to fall afoul of the authorities. In 2016, former Youku vice president Lu Fanxi was detained on corruption charges. In 2015, Patrick Liu Chunning was arrested and tried on charges of corruption involving 2.14 million yuan (about $313,000 at current exchange rates) in bribes received while at a prior job with Tencent Video. Kong Qi was similarly arrested while working for Alibaba Pictures, on suspicion of offenses committed while he, too, was at Tencent.  

The sudden change at the top of Youku comes after a recent restructuring within Alibaba Group, announced last Monday. Alibaba Pictures’ Fan had already been designated to succeed Yang as rotating president of the wider Digital Media and Entertainment group.

Patrick Frater contributed to this report.

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