Meituan fined $533 million in anti-monopoly probe

China levied a $533 million fine on Meituan for violating anti-monopoly regulations, ending a months-long probe that had weighed on the country’s food-delivery leader.

The State Administration for Market Regulation imposed a 3.44 billion yuan fine on Meituan, amounting to 3% of its 2020 domestic revenue, according to a statement Friday. The company will also have to return 1.29 billion yuan of deposits stemming from exclusivity arrangements. Billionaire Wang Xing’s firm was told to improve its commissions mechanism, ensure the legal rights of restaurant partners and step up protections for its delivery riders. 

Investors are likely to regard the sanctions as letting Meituan off lightly, given Beijing’s intensifying scrutiny over the millions of blue-collar workers that power the gig economy. The government has ordered firms like Didi Global Inc. and Meituan to rectify businesses that in some cases operate in legal gray zones, hiring unlicensed drivers for instance. Some analysts had anticipated fines for Meituan in excess of $700 million.  

Meituan said in a statement it sincerely accepted the penalty and will resolutely implement the regulators’ instructions as well as ensure fair competition. 

The antitrust watchdog had announced an investigation into company in April, weeks after slapping a record $2.8 billion fine on Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. for abusing its market dominance. Investors had reacted then by driving up the e-commerce behemoth’s shares more than 6% in Hong Kong on the first trading day after that penalty.