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Mukesh Ambani tops Jack Ma as Asia's richest after deal with Facebook

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Mukesh Ambani is again Asia's richest person after a deal with Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook sent his conglomerate's stock surging.

[HONG KONG] Mukesh Ambani is again Asia's richest person after a deal with Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook sent his conglomerate's stock surging.

Mr Ambani's fortune rose about US$4.7 billion to US$49.2 billion on Wednesday, after Reliance Industries gained 10 per cent. The jump put Mr Ambani about US$3.2 billion ahead of China's Jack Ma, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. The ranking updates after the close of each trading day in the US.

Facebook will invest US$5.7 billion in the US social-networking giant's biggest deal since the 2014 purchase of WhatsApp as it seeks a broader foothold in its biggest global market. The US company will buy about 10 per cent of Jio Platforms, which brings together digital apps and a wireless platform under one umbrella, the Mumbai-based company said in a statement on Wednesday.

Before Wednesday, Mr Ambani - who owns the world's largest oil refinery - had declined by US$14 billion on the index in 2020, the biggest dollar fall of anyone in Asia. Alibaba Group Holding's Mr Ma, whose foundation this week donated 100 million masks to the World Health Organization to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, had lost almost US$1 billion through Tuesday.

"At the core of our partnership is the commitment that Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, and I share for the all-around digital transformation of India," Mr Ambani said in a Web video posted on Jio's Facebook page, adding that Facebook's brands have become household names in India. "WhatsApp in particular, has entered our people's daily vocabulary in all the 23 official languages of India."

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The partnership with Jio would allow Mr Zuckerberg to step up his expansion in a country that is rapidly embracing online payment and e-commerce as more people get smartphones. Jio Infocomm quickly moved into a position of dominance by offering free plans and undercutting wireless market rivals.

With its half-billion Internet users, the South Asian country is a key market for the world's largest technology companies, including Amazon.com, Apple, Microsoft and Alphabet's Google. In India, Facebook has about 250 million users, while WhatsApp has more than 400 million.

That should help Jio bolster its reach, according to James Crabtree, author of The Billionaire Raj, a book on the country's wealthiest people. But the transaction also shows the extent of Mr Ambani's own influence, he said.

"This deal clearly shows that if you want to play big in Indian tech, you need to play nice with Mukesh Mr Ambani."

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