High-flier 'prince' of Baidu quits after internal probe

An internal probe found that Mr Li had "huge" dealings with a person in charge of a company acquired by Baidu.
An internal probe found that Mr Li had "huge" dealings with a person in charge of a company acquired by Baidu.

BEIJING • A top Baidu executive, widely seen as a potential successor to chief executive Robin Li, has resigned after an internal company probe found conflicts of interest involving another firm acquired by the Chinese search engine giant.

Mr Li Mingyuan, 32, known as the "prince" of Baidu within China's tech community, stepped down following the investigation, according to an internal e-mail seen by Reuters and independently confirmed by two people at the firm.

The memo, sent to Baidu employees last Friday evening, said Mr Li had engaged in "huge" economic dealings with a person in charge of a separate company acquired by Baidu. It did not reveal further details of the transaction or the company involved. A Baidu spokesman declined to comment on the matter.

In a statement posted on his WeChat social networking account, Mr Li said the dealings in question were not "dishonest". Baidu's system for rooting out corruption was fierce, he said, and he was taking full responsibility for what he called a "misunderstanding". "Baidu is the company that trained me and the house I grew up in," he said. "(I) never ever thought of doing anything immoral."

Mr Li, who headed the firm's mobile products and operations, also had private dealings with other firms Baidu had partnered with, the memo said, and had not divulged his shareholding in an external company that had close business dealings with Baidu. The behaviour violated Baidu's rules on conflict of interest, the memo said, adding that Baidu had accepted Mr Li's resignation which effective immediately.

The high-profile departure is the latest in a series of setbacks for Baidu this year. The firm has seen advertising revenues shrink in the wake of new regulations on paid advertisements and real-name identification introduced this year. Nasdaq-listed Baidu posted its first quarterly sales drop last month and warned that revenues in the fourth quarter could slide further.

The firm was under government investigation in May after the death of a student who had criticised Baidu's system of paid search results for leading him to an unapproved, and unsuccessful, treatment.

Baidu is also seeking to raise as much as US$500 million (S$695 million) for its Waimai food delivery unit amid a costly battle with other Chinese Internet giants for customers.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 08, 2016, with the headline 'High-flier 'prince' of Baidu quits after internal probe'. Print Edition | Subscribe