Tuesday, May 21, 2024

TikTok’s lawsuit against the U.S. reveals billionaire ByteDance founder Zhang Yiming is living in Singapore

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Among the facts TikTok’s lawsuit against the US government surfaced: billionaire ByteDance Ltd. founder Zhang Yiming is living in Singapore while keeping Chinese citizenship.

Zhang joins a raft of corporate chieftains who’ve relocated to the island state after years of regulatory tightening and Covid restrictions hammered China’s once free-wheeling tech sector. Fellow entrepreneurs with close ties to the Asian financial hub include Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. Chief Executive Officer Eddie Wu — who is a naturalized Singaporean citizen — and crypto pioneer Wu Jihan.

Zhang is a Chinese national residing in Singapore who now owns roughly 21% of TikTok’s parent, ByteDance said in its lawsuit challenging the TikTok divest-or-ban law. Global investors and ByteDance employees own the rest.

ByteDance’s Structure, Per the Lawsuit
Zhang Yiming  21%
Global institutions (e.g. BlackRock, General Atlantic, SIG) 58%
ByteDance employees (including 7,000 Americans) 21%

The billionaire spent much of 2022 overseas, using Singapore as a primary base, the Information reported at the time, fueling speculation he has applied for foreign citizenship. TikTok included Zhang’s status in a section outlining influential figures at the company.

Like many of China’s corporate elite, several of ByteDance’s honchos have shown a predilection for the prosperous city state in past years. 

Zhang years ago handed leadership at ByteDance to fellow co-founder and college roommate Liang Rubo, who’s now also based there. TikTok CEO Shou Chew himself is Singaporean. Other senior executives for ByteDance’s Chinese operations, including commercialization chief Zhang Lidong, remain in their home country.

Zhang’s 21% slice of ByteDance is worth more than $40 billion, based on the company’s $268 billion valuation during a recent share buyback program. The filing also shows Zhang has held onto his shares over the past year, since TikTok’s CEO revealed his boss’s stake of around 20% during a Congressional hearing.

Zhang’s current status emerged after TikTok filed a lawsuit against legislation requiring ByteDance to hive off its most successful global invention. The bill sailed through Congress and President Joe Biden signed into law in April, beginning a 270-day countdown for a sale or a US prohibition of the popular video-sharing platform.

The lawsuit affirms expectations that ByteDance doesn’t intend to find a buyer for TikTok as the deadline approaches. Instead, the Chinese firm wants the law declared unconstitutional, saying it violates the First Amendment.

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