China’s favorite spicy sauce brand did not actually cheat Tencent

Society & Culture

China’s favorite hot sauce company was accused of not paying a $2.3 million advertising bill to internet giant Tencent. Now it turns out the company is innocent: Three people pretending to be marketing executives of the Guizhou Lao Gan Ma Company have been arrested for an elaborate scam.

On June 30, Sina reported (in Chinese) that internet giant Tencent had won a court ruling to freeze 16.24 million yuan ($2.3 million) of assets belonging to the Guizhou Lao Gan Ma Company, maker of China’s most famous spicy sauce. The company was founded by an illiterate woman from a mountain village who started a street stall selling spicy noodles and built it into a multibillion-dollar global sauce empire. 

Now it turns out Lao Gan Ma is innocent: Today, the police said, “Tencent appears to have been duped by a group of people masquerading as representatives” of the sauce company, according to Reuters

Three people have been arrested. They were pretending to be Lao Gan Ma marketing managers and “had forged the company’s seals and signed the contract with Tencent,” per Caixin (paywall). The aim of the scam was to “obtain the gaming activation codes that Tencent distributed alongside the advertisements and resell them for profit.”

Tencent has offered 1,000 bottles of Lao Gan Ma as reward for people who come forward with information about the scam.

On Chinese social media, people are questioning why no one at Lao Gan Ma saw the Tencent ads and thought to do something about them: The hashtag “Lao Gan Ma is super spicy” (#老干妈飘火辣辣#) had over 180 million views on Weibo earlier today, but now it seems to have been censored completely.