Chinese crypto Mogul Li sells stake in exchange operator Huobi

SHANGHAI (Bloomberg): Huobi Global controlling shareholder Leon Li has sold his entire stake in the cryptocurrency exchange operator and will cease to be involved in its operations, according to the company.

Li sold his holding in Huobi to a buyout firm managed by About Capital Management (HK)Co., the company said in an e-mailed statement. The co-founder will no longer be involved in any aspect of Huobi Global’s business, according to a Huobi spokesperson. Bloomberg reported the intended sale in August.

Once the most active Bitcoin trading platform on the globe, Huobi has in recent years retreated from China, once its biggest user base and revenue source. Li’s exchange stopped providing services to Chinese users after Beijing declared crypto transactions illegal last year.

The bourse has since accelerated its expansion into overseas markets including Turkey and Brazil, but is fighting bigger rivals like Binance and FTX.

“Following Huobi’s exit from the Chinese mainland market in 2021, we have accelerated our globalization push amidst a challenging market environment, which adds to the impetus for Huobi to seek a new shareholding structure with a global vision and international resources,” Li said in the statement.

The transaction has no impact on Huobi’s core operations and business management teams, Huobi said.

Huobi was co-founded in 2013 by former Oracle Corp. Coder Li, who quickly transformed the Beijing startup into the world’s most active Bitcoin exchange by charging zero transaction fees. In 2017, Chinese regulators told local exchanges to stop hosting trades between fiat and digital money, the first of a stream of pronouncements that quelled a perceived threat to the country’s financial stability.
Li had at different times ceded daily management as he dealt with health issues. The current CEO is Hua Zhu, an ex-Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. technologist who joined Huobi in 2020.

In an interview for a 2020 Bloomberg News story, Li said he had never received any official notice barring him from leaving China but he’s chosen not to, unsure of the risks that would entail.