Feb 09, 2015 06:00 PM

Hangzhou Police Are Alibaba's Thugs, Webmaster Says after Detention

(Beijing) – A webmaster in Shenzhen has accused police officers from a city some 1,300 kilometers away of being the thugs of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. after he was detained and told he should not be putting articles critical of the e-commerce giant on social media.

Xiang Dongshun, who works at Shenzhen Dimeng Network Technology Co. Ltd., told Caixin that on the evening of February 5 he was taken from his office in the southern city of Shenzhen by three plainclothes police officers. Two of them spoke Chinese with a different accent than the one heard in Shenzhen, he said.

Xiang said he was taken to the offices of the Shenzhen police department's economic crimes unit and put in a windowless room with the two officers, who then questioned him for three hours about why the company was writing and posting articles critical of Alibaba and its e-marketplace Taobao. They also tried to force him to not put any more such posts online, he said.

"One of the officers told me that we (the company) don't have the right or it's not our job to criticize Alibaba for selling counterfeits and products without copyright clearance," he said.

After his release, Xiang wrote an article on WeChat, the popular messaging app where the posts critical of Alibaba also appeared, with the title: "We condemn the Hangzhou police for acting as a thug for Alibaba in getting into a case in another province."

The eastern city of Hangzhou is home to Alibaba's headquarters.

Xiang said that the police officers warned that Alibaba could get rid of a company like Shenzhen Dimeng in a minute. He wrote: "'Do you have any idea who is behind Alibaba?' they asked. 'If we told you, you would be scared to death,' they told me."

Xiang said the two officers who questioned him did not provide any identification. Xiang Jun, the CEO of Shenzhen Dimeng, visited the police station and was told by Shenzhen officers that they came from Hangzhou.

Xiang Dongshun said he was also told to sign a blank statement, but refused. He was released when several reporters visited the police station late that night.

Alibaba Group accused Shenzhen Dimeng of defamation on February 7, saying it launched "malicious attacks" against Taobao and Alibaba's senior executives.

"We have made a report to police over what they've published, including claims that Alibaba and Taobao have evaded 5 trillion yuan in taxes, which exceeded the total GDP of 100 countries," Alibaba said in the statement on Sina Weibo, China's version of Twitter.

This episode adds to Alibaba's recent string of troubles since a widely publicized war of words erupted between it and the country's commerce authorities over the extent of fake goods being sold on Taobao.

The feud with the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC) exposed problems related to counterfeiting and other irregularities at Alibaba, which prompted a U.S. law firm to launch a class action lawsuit against Alibaba for misleading investors in the months before its initial public offering in New York. Alibaba raised more than US$ 25 billion when it listed on the Nasdaq in September.

Hangzhou police confirmed on February 8 that they have received a complaint from Alibaba and are investigating.

Shenzhen Dimeng is a website that facilitates sales of heavy-duty machinery and industrial products. From January 19 to February 5, it put 11 articles critical of Alibaba on its WeChat account. The articles range in length from several hundred to 1,000 words. It is unclear why the company did this or who the authors were. The one accusing of Alibaba of grave tax evasion was viewed by over 100,000 readers.

Wang Yong, a professor at China University of Political Science and Law in the capital, said that the key element in determining guilt in a defamation case is whether allegations are intentionally fabricated.

Taobao has a problem with counterfeit goods – at least as far as the SAIC is concerned – and tax evasion is common in online transactions because they often lack receipts, he said.

"What Shenzhen Dimeng wrote about Alibaba in their posts is mainly opinion, so they don't constitute defamation or harm its reputation," Wang said.

(Rewritten by Li Rongde)

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