Chinese billionaire and Alibaba founder Jack Ma’s absence from the final episode of Africa’s Business Heroes television show that he created has been attributed to a “scheduling conflict”.

In a response to a query from the BBC, an Alibaba spokesperson said: “Regarding the Africa Business Hero competition, Jack had to miss the final due to a scheduling conflict.”

According to several media reports, Mr Ma has not been seen in public for two months, ever since he made what were seen as controversial comments about the Chinese banking system at a public event in Shanghai on October 24.

Subsequently, the IPO of Ant Financial, the digital payments group affiliated to Alibaba, was shelved by regulators.

Alibaba would not confirm or deny Mr Ma’s absence from public view, and would not comment on Mr Ma’s current whereabouts.

This is not the first time high profile Chinese personalities have disappeared from public view, only to reappear months later to deliver a contrite apology for their actions, and redeem themselves.

China watchers say it is unclear at the moment whether Mr Ma’s absence should be seen as suspicious.

A former Alibaba employee has told the BBC that it is not unusual for him to lay low ahead of Chinese new year festivities.

But previous incidents regarding public figures like movie star Fan Bingbing have shown that disappearances of public figures can last for several months.

Alibaba’s shares are currently almost 3% lower on the Hong Kong stock exchange.