Watchdog eyes property giant KE over tactics

China’s antitrust watchdog has launched an investigation into online property giant KE Holdings, widening a crackdown into the country’s tech sector, Reuters reported, citing people with knowledge of the matter.

The State Administration for Market Regulation began a formal probe into whether KE forces developers to list housing information exclusively on its platforms, including Lianjia and Beike.

The tactic – known as “pick one from two” – was among the violations that led to a record 18.2 billion yuan (HK$22.05 billion) fine for Alibaba in April, while Meituan is also being investigated on similar charges.

In a brief statement posted to Wechat, KE called reports that it was under probe “fake news.”

Reuters said the regulator didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Since late April, the regulator has stationed inspectors in 17 so-called platform companies, including KE, to boost the efficiency of antitrust inspections, Reuters cited one person as saying.

News of the probe may add to uncertainties for KE, backed by some of Asia’s most influential startup investors, including Hillhouse Capital, Tencent and SoftBank.

The company announced last week its billionaire founder, Zuo Hui, died of an unspecified illness, a shocking development for a firm that pulled off one of the strongest US market debuts of 2020.

KE shares have retreated 15 percent this year, though it is still up 160 percent since its listing.

In one of his last public appearances, Zuo acknowledged accusations of unfair pricing during the early days of Beijing Lianjia Real Estate Brokerage, which he founded in 2001.

“We’ve done a lot of bad stuff too,” he told state-run CCTV in an interview that aired in April, adding that the company later changed its business practices after recognizing they were a problem.

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